Wild Parsnip

Wild Parsnip

Up Close

I first noticed it in 2006, a tall yellow flower growing in the field. It was just one of several other plants, including Queen Anne’s lace, a couple varieties of goldenrod, and all those grasses I can’t identify. I looked it up. It wasn’t easy to find in the Vermont flower guide but I did find it in the edible wild plant guide. And I thought: Wild parsnip, huh? Interesting. Edible roots, related to carrots and cultivated parsnip. Worth trying one of these days?

But this plant has a nasty side. Rub up against it and get its oils on your skin, then hang out in the sun and watch out. Sunlight brings on burns and blistering because the plant goo is photoreactive. The result is ugly and painful. Not a plant to mess with, especially in summer. Unfortunately, that is when it grows. And grows.

Last summer the stuff took off. Road crews mowed less, so it grew more than usual, and it just had a banner year. This summer it has taken over roadsides and fields pretty much anywhere that isn’t cut. It grows tall, too–taller than me. Over six feet sometimes. There used to be a mix of plants, but where this grows it seems to dominate. Queen Anne’s lace just can’t compete. Late in summer its seeds will spread all over and it will grow even more next year.

That is one reason we want to cut our own field more often–to get rid of this plant. We can’t let it go to seed, that is for sure. The field was cut last month and it still is coming back, stretching its yellow flowers above everything else that is growing. We need to cut again soon to repel it once more.

So, yes, apparently, one can eat the roots–boil them up and have oneself a meal. It would feed many people, the way it grows around here. It isn’t native but it sure has made itself at home. I like to be welcoming, but I wouldn’t miss this plant if it decided to take up and move away. At least purple loosestrife has beautiful flowers and doesn’t cause wounds (except when I try to pull it up by the roots with bare hands). Wild parsnip is a fine plant, I am sure, once you get to know it. If it were not so aggressive I might even appreciate it. This bully, however, needs to keep it in check and learn to play nice.

Unfortunately, as the world of flora goes, I don’t see that happening.

One thought on “Wild Parsnip

  1. You are much more compassionate toward this invasive than I am. I’ve been fighting it on my property for many years now, and slowly winning the war on certain parts of our 44 acres.
    I support and subsist on almost entirely local food, and my heart goes out to the hungry, but I don’t think attempting to harvest this plant is worth the risk.
    This bully won’t decide to move away, and it won’t ever learn to play nice. That edible root is fueling its repeated regrowth. It’s very hard, but not impossible to keep in check.

    Check out my recent post, if you like,
    http://digginginthedriftless.wordpress.com/2010/06/29/wild-parsnip-beware-the-green-meany/

    best wishes and good luck,
    Denise Thornton

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