Wild Parsnip

Keturah, who just returned from vacation out of state, emailed me about a fascinating plant. Wild Parsnip. It looks a bit like Queen Anne’s lace, is in the carrot family, and can grow to six feet tall. However, this isn’t your ordinary tuber. It is phytophotodermatitic. If you rub up against a leaf or part of the stem, you contract a strange rash that looks like a sunburn.

The fascinating bit is how this happens. The plant contains a chemical called furocourmarins. They absorb long-wave ultra-violet radiation, and when rubbed into your skin, can actually cause a severe sunburn.

Unfortunately, Keturah informs me, not many people know to avoid the plant, and most doctors aren’t familiar with it. If you’re affected by the wild parsnip burn and go to the doctor’s, they often don’t have a clue what’s wrong with you.

¬†Anyway, there’s your botany lesson for the day. :D


  1. Aunt Joni Said,

    July 4, 2006 @ 10:05 am

    Uncle Ted says the wild parsnip is very rare. Evidently a lot of the parsnip growing wild comes from people’ gardens that went to seed and spread by the wind. He says when you find it in the wild you’re ususally covered up – if you have long sleeves on etc. All very interesting. Thank you Keturah, and Hannah for posting. :-D

  2. Aunt Joni Said,

    July 4, 2006 @ 10:25 am

    Now we have researched it in our audobon book on wild plants and the internet and found that they call parnips that have self reseeded and growing wild – wild parsnip and that they do indeed give the burn if you get the juice from the plant on your skin and are then exposed to sunlight. So evidently even cultivated parsnips can do this. Now we are debating the nomenclature of plants being wild. Well Hannah what do you make of this section of your extended family now! ;-)

  3. Hannah Said,

    July 4, 2006 @ 10:59 am

    Even more information, it’s really pretty interesting stuff! I’m glad the post provided you with a good conversation. :D

  4. Herenya Said,

    July 5, 2006 @ 4:30 am

    That’s weird… sunburn? From a plant? Wow. I’m guessing it’s not exactly something I’m going to come across unless I move countries :p – but it’s certainly interesting! I’ve never heard of anything like it before…

  5. ruthie Said,

    July 11, 2006 @ 8:42 pm

    i brushed up against a plant (i am thinking it was stinging nettle) last week that stung like crazy and made my skin bubble up. It was about waist high or sl. bigger and had pretty white flowers and clear hairlike things all over the plant that you can barely see. took benadryl and the rash cleared up within the day.

  6. Hannah Said,

    July 14, 2006 @ 8:23 am

    I’ve wanted to find stinging nettle, but I’m not sure it grows here. An interesting plant, even if it is potentially painful. ;)

  7. Belle Said,

    July 17, 2006 @ 11:22 am

    I was wounded by wild parsnip just last week and had no idea until a friend had read about it in LHJ. Basically I had been working in the yard and had cut was was (unknowingly) Wild Parsnip in order to remove it sicne I had figured out it was a weed. Wearing shorts and tshirt, didn’t notice anything until a day and a half later when it looked like I had been hit by a jellyfish – blisters, a long streak around my calf (where I had likely dragged it as I was putting it into the trash bag) and small blsiters on my forearms. It looks REALLY bad, is slightly painful at first, but according to the following website, can discolor skin for up to 2 years . . . there goes skirt season. http://www.wnrmag.com/stories/1999/jun99/parsnip.htm

    Hope this helps – and it really does look like Queen Anne’s Lace, only with yellow flowers. Good luck avoiding it!

  8. Erin J Said,

    July 15, 2008 @ 12:05 pm

    Although well aware of what wild parsnip can do to your skin if you touch it, I still managed to accidentally get into some while kayaking this weekend. A burn showed up on my leg yesterday and I just realized today what it was from. It’s a painful, hot, red area that feels like incredibly severe sunburn. Ouch!

  9. Denise Thornton Said,

    June 29, 2009 @ 3:13 pm

    I’ve been battling wild parsnip on my land since I got there five years ago. I just posted about my saga and the scientific skinny on how it actually does its damage to our skin.
    check it out
    Denise Thornton

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