Wild parsnip

Biological Name:

Pastinaca sativa (Wild-parsnip)

Natural Habitat:

Wild-Parsnip is a herb that is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It can grow in meadows, forests, and along the edges of fields.


Wild-parsnip is a perennial herb that is native to Europe and Asia. It has small yellow flowers and long narrow leaves. It is often found in moist shaded areas and is used in traditional medicine.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: What does wild parsnip do to you?
A: Wild parsnip is an invasive plant from Europe and Asia that has become naturalized in North America. It is well suited for colonizing disturbed areas but can also be found in open fields and lawns. Wild parsnip sap can cause painful, localized burning and blistering of the skin.

Q: Can you wash off wild parsnip?
A: What to do if you come in contact with wild parsnip. If your skin has come in contact with sap from a wild parsnip, immediately cover the affected area. Your goal is to shield your skin from sunlight to prevent a reaction. Once inside and out of the sun, wash the contact area with mild soap and warm water.

Q: Should you pop blisters from wild parsnip?
A: If contact has occurred and causes blisters, it is best to cover the affected area with a cool, wet cloth. Avoid letting the blisters rupture; if they do rupture leave the “skin bandage” in place. To avoid infection keep the area clean and apply antibiotic creams or powders as directed.

Q: How long do wild parsnip burns last?
A: Symptoms usually take 24-48 hours to de- velop, but could take longer. Mild exposure is similar to sunburn. Severe exposure causes skin to blister.

Q: Are wild parsnips safe to eat?
A: Wild parsnip roots are edible, but the fruit, stems, and foliage contain high concentrations of toxic chemicals called furanocoumarins. These toxins, which are designed to protect the plant from herbivory, are activated by UV radiation.

Q: Can you pull out wild parsnip?
A: Hand Pulling: Pulling out a Wild Parsnip plant by hand will kill it. It is easier to remove plants with stout stems after a period of rain or during a drought, when the root shrinks.

Q: Why should you not burn wild parsnip?
A: Like giant hogweed and other members of the carrot family, it produces sap containing chemicals that can cause human skin to react to sunlight, resulting in intense burns, rashes or blisters.

Q: When should you not eat a parsnip?
A: Store in the refrigerator in an unsealed bag for 3+ weeks. If a raw parsnip becomes soft and squishy, this is a sign of rot and it should no longer be eaten.

Q: What does wild parsnip poisoning look like?
A: Burns from wild parsnip can be misdiagnosed as poison ivy as in mild cases, the affected skin reddens and feels sunburned. In more severe cases, the skin reddens first, then blisters. The affected area and blisters may produce a sensation similar to a mild to severe sunburn or a stinging, burning sensation.

Q: How common is wild parsnip?
A: The plant typically can grow up to 4 feet (1.2 m) tall in an average year. Wild parsnip is common throughout the northern United States and southern Canada. Its range reaches from Vermont to California and south to Louisiana (it is not found in Hawaii, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida).

Q: Does wild parsnip leave scars?
A: You can touch and brush against the plant — carefully — without harm. Parsnip is only dangerous when the juice gets on skin from broken leaves or stems. Fair-skinned people, however, may be extra-sensitive to tiny amounts of juice. It leaves a brown mark which blisters and then a scar the size of the blister.

Q: Is wild parsnip found in the UK?
A: Biennial. Occasional but widespread in central and southern England, local and often coastal elsewhere. Mainly found in the north east of Leicestershire and parts of Rutland, just a few records from railway verges elsewhere in VC55. In the 1979 Flora survey of Leicestershire it was found in 61 of the 617 tetrads.

Q: How do you treat wild parsnip rash?
A: The rash will usually clear up without treatment if you avoid contact with the plant that caused it. Treatment options include: Wash the affected area and cover rash with cool, wet cloth or bandage to reduce swelling. Steroid creams can be used sparingly (see your doctor or pharmacist) if the rash is severe.

Q: Is wild parsnip and hogweed the same thing?
A: Giant Hogweed is often confused with native Cow Parsnip. The two are compared below. Giant hogweed has large, very deeply lobed leaves with jagged edges (up to 2.5 metres long), whereas Cow parsnip leaves are smaller (only 40cm long) and its leaves are wider, less lobed and less jagged.

Q: Is wild parsnip the same as Queen Anne’s lace?
A: Wild parsnip looks like Queen Anne’s lace and many of its look-alikes with one key difference: It is yellow, not white. Wild parsnip is often confused for golden alexander, a native wildflower that produces similar-looking yellow, lacy flowers. One of the easiest ways to differentiate between the two is height.

Q: What is the difference between parsnip and wild parsnip?
A: Cow parsnip (pictured above) has white flowers while wild parsnip has yellow flowers. Once cow parsnip starts to turn to seed, some can confuse the two because the flower color starts to fade. Difference can be seen in the leaf shape. It looks like an open palm while wild parsnip leaves look oblong.

Q: How long does a wild parsnip rash last?
A: No one is exempt. Symptoms usually take 24-48 hours to de- velop, but could take longer. Mild exposure is similar to sunburn. Severe exposure causes skin to blister.

About the author

Samuel is a gardening professional and enthusiast who has spent over 20 years advising homeowners and farm owners on weed identification, prevention and removal. He has an undergraduate degree in plant and soil science from Michigan State University.