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Water Parsnip - Sium suave

Parsnips for Dinner?

Did you know parsnips grow wild along the roads and along the inland lake shores in Cook County? Well, don't let your mouth water yet. These are not the parsnips that mom used to boil up with the potatoes and gravy.

Locally growing are both Cow Parsnips (Heracleum spondylium) and Water Parsnips (Sium suave). These parsnips range from Texas, up into Ontario, from East to West coast. You may have noticed them growing waist to chest height, with large clusters of delicate white blossoms. The parsnips belong to the Apiaceae family, which has over 2500 species. These include common herbs and vegetables like carrots, celery, parsley, dill, fennel, anise, and coriander.

Why won't I be having this find for dinner tonight? Well, even though stems of cow parsnip have been eaten like raw celery, boiled in stew, or it's leaves dried and used a salt substitute, it is also a high allergen to some. The oil of the plant contains toxic compounds, known as furanocoumarins. Farmers in Southern Minnesota have been struggling with the spread of wild parsnip (Pastinaca sativa), which has yellow blooms, and contains a photoactive furanocoumarin. These compounds can cause blisters, hyper pigmentation, and itching. This enhances the toxin in sunlight. Also known as "Celery Picker's Itch" or "Bartenders Itch", these maladies have been known to bother both humans, animals, and even insects.

The fact that it affects insects, may be a reason that it has been effective as a natural insect repellant when the leaves have been brushed on ones skin or clothing.

Ok, so I don't think I am affected by these furocoumawhatevers, can't I have the parsnips for dinner? Well, a larger cause for concern is the fact that many of the members of the Apiaceae family are very hared to distinguish from one another. For example, water parsnip and water hemlock can easily be confused with cow parsnip. The water hemlock is extremely toxic and can cause death in animals.

My recommendation? Steer clear of these plants, but enjoy the flowers from afar. Find something else for dinner tonight.

Weekly area wildflower reports by Lorraine Anderson can be found online at

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Past Reports

2009 Wildflower Reports

August 6th, 2009

July 29th, 2009

July 22nd, 2009

July 15th, 2009

July 8th, 2009

July 1st, 2009

June 24th, 2009

June 21st - 24th, 2009

June 17th, 2009

June 10th, 2009

June 3rd, 2009

May 27th, 2009

May 26th-29th, 2009

May 21st, 2009

May 16th, 2009


2008 Wildflower Reports

August 20th, 2008

August 13th, 2008

August 6th, 2008

July 30th, 2008

July 23rd, 2008

July 16th, 2008

July 6th, 2008

July 1st, 2008

June 25th, 2008

June 18th, 2008

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June 4th, 2008

May 28th, 2008

May 21st, 2008

May 14th, 2008


2007 Wildflower Reports

September 5th 2007

August 21st, 2007

August 15th, 2007

August 8th, 2007

August 1st, 2007

July 25th, 2007

July 18th, 2007

July 11th, 2007

July 4th, 2007

June 27th, 2007

June 20th, 2007

June 13th, 2007

June 6th, 2007

May 30th, 2007

May 23rd, 2007

May 16th, 2007

May 9th, 2007

May 2nd, 2007


2006 Wildflower Reports:

August 16th, 2006

August 9th, 2006

August 2nd, 2006

July 26th, 2006

July 19th, 2006

July 12th, 2006

July 5th, 2006

June 21st, 2006

June 28th, 2006

June 14th, 2006

June 7th, 2006

May 31st, 2006

May 24th, 2006

May 17th, 2006

May 10th, 2006

May 3rd, 2006

April 26th, 2006  


2005 Wildflower Reports:

August 10th, 2005

August 3rd, 2005

July 27th, 2005

July 20th, 2005

July 13th, 2005

July 6th, 2005

June 29th, 2005

June 22nd 2005

June 15th 2005

June 12th, 2005

June 10th, 2005

June 8th, 2005

June 1, 2005

May 25th, 2005

May 18th, 2005

May 11th, 2005

May 4th, 2005

April 20th, 2005

April 13th, 2005


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