Saturday, May 5, 2007

Cow Parsnip

Click the picture behind the young shoot picture too see the plant in flower (for some reason it does not show on the blog post) top, young shoot, behind, plant in flower, lower flower bud top with young leaves.
Photosensitizing agents What you should know before gathering this plant for food or medicine!
When a substance causes the skin to be sensitive to sun the phenomenon is called photosensitization. If your going to be gathering this plant, realize that some people have a sensitivity to it when they gather it, and are exposed to sunlight. Nancy Turner in the book Common Poisonous Plants and Mushrooms of North America, attribute this to furanocoumarins. What happens with some people is you will notice a dark discoloration locally where the juice has touched, you may have some pain, sensitivity or itching. The dark color will slowly fade, for some it takes longer than a year. According to Turner, this can cause cell damage to the skin. I have very sensitive skin so I always where gloves and long sleeves when collecting, I also make sure I where pants if I am going to be walking in an area where I know cow parsnip is growing. Take a sharp knife (don't try to grab with your hands and break the stalk). When you get back to the processing area, be careful there as well.

Time To Eat!

The above picture was taken before the plant has flowered, this is the best time to eat Cow Parsnip. this is an acquired taste to say the least, if you want to include the flowering bud (before it has flowered) in a stir fry I would suggest boiling and pouring off the water several times before eating. In fact, due to the furanocoumarins, eating raw could may be a danger to your face and mouth. They have a super strong flavor like celery mutating into some weird alien, so a little dab will do ya and I wouldn't eat alone, add a little to stew, stir fry or soup. You could dry the buds and use as a spice. The young leaves are edible (in the picture above the bud) they are more mild than the buds and also can be added to soups and salads. Some Native American groups used to eat the young stem (above picture) just as the shoots are coming from the ground, they also ate the upper most flowering bud stem, peeled. The thin and stringy rind is where all the strong flavors are, once the stalk is peeled it is much more pleasant to eat (make sure all the rind is off). Use the peeled stem like you would celery. The stem is hollow so you could stuff it with peanut butter, mushrooms, whatever your imagination can think of. The further down the stem you get, the less sweet and palatable. You can also harvest the upper most segment giving rise to the flowering bud (before the plant has flowered) You should boil and leach it first, up to seven water changes, the more you do this, the milder the taste will get. These plants like moist soil and can often be found on road sides & margins of forests across the US excluding the southern margins. This plant smells like celery on steroids. Don't gather a bunch and put them in an enclosed space like a car, the smell after a while will really start to get to you, it has even been reported to cause head aches. Also make sure you know the plant you are gathering, don't mix it up with the poison hemlock family. The best thing to do is watch the plant through it's whole growth cycle, be sure it is indeed a cow parsnip, go back the next year to collect. Sometime you can find a flowering plant in early spring next to plants that have not yet flowered. Poison Hemlock has purple spots on the stem and does not have the small hairs.

Cow parsnip Heracleum lanatum has been used medicinally. The root for toothaches (placed directly to the area) or you can also use a tincture of the root or seeds, it is less irritating to the gums than cloves. The root and seeds are used as an antispasmodic to the intestinal tract. If used in a tea, make sure it is dried first, the tea is used for nausea of a persistent nature, when you have not yet vomited, as well as acid indigestion and heart burn according to Micheal Moore in Medicinal Plants of the Mountain West. The seeds tinctured are effective for stomach aches, the dose should be one or two drops. Do not use this plant during pregnancy or nursing.

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Rosalee de la Foret said...

Thanks Angie! I am in Eureka, CA right now and cow parsnip is everywhere. I did a google search to learn more about it and you were the first one to come up. :) Thanks!

Anonymous said...

You should point out that cow parsnip can easily be mistaken for Poison Hemlock and water hemlock both of which can be DEADLY!!!