Interesting facts about cow parsnip.

One of the plants my hubby and I found in abundance on our recent walk in Strathcona Ravine was cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum, syn. H. lanatum, H. linatum – sometimes called H. sphondylium subsp. monatum).  It’s a common wild flower in Alberta, usually found in any location with damp soil.  I find them endlessly fascinating, with their huge leaves, hollow stems, and impressive white flower umbels…but many people know them only because they are frequently confused with their highly toxic relative, giant hogweed (H. mantegazzianum, sometimes mistakenly called H. maximum), which – as far as I understand – is not yet found in this province.

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Interesting Facts about Cow Parsnip

  • H. maximum is the only native North American plant of the genus.
  • “Heracleum” is a reference to Hercules; the plants are so named due to their large size.  Cow parsnip will grow up to 2 metres in height.  The dreaded giant hogweed will grow up to 5 metres tall.
  • Cow parsnip flowers can be brewed into an infusion that will apparently ward off mosquitoes.  No word on whether or not you apply the infusion to your skin or just leave it in a mason jar on your picnic table.
  • Cow parsnip is a member of the Apiaceae family – this is obvious by those characteristic flower umbels, which can be up to 20 centimetres across.
  • Cow parsnip is highly attractive to butterflies.
  • The white flowers apparently smell a bit like vanilla, but I’ve never noticed this.  I tend to think of cow parsnip as a rather stinky plant – but maybe I usually encounter it when it is fruiting.  The fruit does not have a pleasant odour.
  • Cow parsnip does not like to be transplanted – it also does not grow well in disturbed areas.
  • H. maximum has a short life span, but it makes up for that by reseeding itself all over the place.
  • You can make a yellow dye from cow parsnip roots.
  • Historically, the immature roots were cooked and eaten by North American indigenous peoples. The young stems and leaf stalks were also peeled, cooked, and eaten.  They supposedly taste like celery. Raw stalks were also peeled and eaten.
  • Cow parsnip may be used for erosion control or to stabilize slopes due to its substantial root system.
  • The stems of cow parsnip are hollow between the nodes.  I used to play with the dried ones when I was a child – I was fascinated by the fact that they were hollow.
  • Wear gloves when you pick the flowers of cow parsnip, as they have tiny spines along the stems.
  • Cow parsnip was once used to treat bruises and blisters, and to reduce swelling of the extremities.
  • The stems and leaves of cow parsnip contain small amounts of furocoumarins, toxins which can cause phytophotodermatitis.  To be on the safe side, wear gloves when handling cow parsnip.  However, cow parsnip should not be confused with the highly poisonous giant hogweed, which can seriously harm a person.  Giant Hogweed or Cow Parsnip?

Does cow parsnip grow where you live?

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Alberta snapshot: Strathcona Ravine.

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Emerging green in Strathcona Ravine, in southwest Calgary.  A small (23 hectares) park in the middle of a residential area, the Ravine has its own springs (which you can wander alongside using a convenient boardwalk) and sections of restful, dense forest.  Because of the shade and damp conditions, much of the growth consists of chokecherries, currants, willows, poplars, and cow parsnip.  I imagine it is really cool and refreshing to walk here on a hot summer afternoon….

Flowery Friday.

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Happy Friday!  I can’t believe I had to flip the calendar over to May this morning.  What’s up with time, anyway?  I know it seems to fly as you get older, but for me, it’s feeling pretty supersonic at this point.  (Awhile back, I came across this review of a book about the perception of time in relation to age…might make for some interesting reading).

I managed to get out to Nose Hill one morning this week and saw all the willow catkins emerging…I quickly took a few photos and rushed to get myself and my camera out of the rain shower that suddenly started right above me (and only me, as far as I could tell).  We really could use a nice, soaking rain, although everything is greening up despite the dry conditions.  I noticed our neighbour’s fantastically floriferous forsythia (too much?) on the way back from the park – it is, of course, competing with all those show-off Prunus species.  All this incredible colour and beauty is enough to make your eyes drunk.

I planted some spinach and radish seeds in the raised bed at the community garden this week – this is the earliest I’ve ever put these crops in, although many would reckon I’m actually running late.  I know some people who plant outside under cover in March – and unlike most years, we didn’t have much snow and ice in that month.  Last year, I planted my spinach on the 20 of May. Most of my garlic is up now – I just love to see those spiky green shoots splitting the soil.

What are your plans for the weekend?  I’ve got a deadline looming on an article about lacto-fermentation (BTW – do any of you do any fermenting?  I’ve been puttering around lately with several different whole leaf herb ferments – they’re easy and fun).  I’m also hoping to get out for some fresh air – I was reading a recent blog post by a local hiker, Barry Taylor, and he suggested Strathcona Ravine here in Calgary for a little nature jaunt.  I’m keen to check it out – we’ve lived here nearly two decades and I hadn’t ever heard of it before.

Before I leave you, I have to share the foodie extravaganza that is the list of midway culinary treats for this year’s Calgary Stampede.  If you thought last year’s were over the top, you haven’t seen anything yet.  I can’t believe that gigantic ice cream cone or the $100 hotdog…and we won’t talk about the cockroach offering.  I feel pretty much like I did last year – the poutines are the most tempting for me (well, except for the one with the doughnuts and the jalapenos – that just smacks of a stomach ache in a bowl).  What would you try?  Which of these is just too excessive (well, besides ALL of them)?