Cow Parsnip Seen Locally
Recently while walking on a local nature trail we came across some large wild parsnip growing immediately next the trail. So close that if you were walking side by side, one of you would brush against it. By looking at the Queen Anne’s Lace type of flower head, we immediately mis-identified it as Giant Hogweed (a very toxic and invasive plant). But after checking online we determined it was actually cow parsnip (both are part of the same family as carrots and share some of the same characteristics).
Cow Parsnip is the native to North America, unlike other plants in the Heracleum genus. It is found in every Canadian province and many American states. Cow parsnip is a tall herb reaching about 2 meters in height at full maturity. The Queen Anne’s Lace looking flower umbrels are about 20cm (8in) across. The most impressive part of the plant, to me, are the leaves. They are huge (about 40cm/16in across) and they kind of look like giant hands.
The stems and leaves of the cow parsnip contain a sap with furocoumarins, which is a chemical that causes a rash of burn-like blisters to the skin after exposure to ultraviolet light (aka the sun). The rash commonly occurs after an unsuspecting person uses a weed eater to cut the cow parsnip and receives the splash of the stem and leave sap onto his or her skin on a bright sunny day. You can also attain blisters by just brushing up against it! Ouch! Wear pants and long sleeves!
Parts of the cow parsnip are edible and have medicinal uses but obviously you need to know how to properly and safely harvest and use the plant.