Cow Parsnip – Dangerous Plant in the Pacific Northwest

Sharing is caring!

Having lived in the Pacific Northwest my whole life, the wild forest are familiar. Salal, oxalis, elderberry and nettles are instinctively identifiable. It’s nice knowing that there aren’t any poisonous snakes and few poisonous insects, so the woods should be a peaceful serene place. However, last week a friend’s child got into Cow Parsnip and now he will probably have permanent scars on his legs from this hugely scary plant.

Check out these pictures of the 3 year old child and his reaction to Cow Parsnip:

day 1

Day 1

day 2

Day 2

Day One: it looked like a sunburn so wasn’t too concerning. It was red and tender, but not overly hot. Didn’t know what it was at the time. Initially thought it might be a sunburn or rash. Kids had been playing outside in the woods, not too worried. Plus this kiddo just loves tromping through the woods in his rubber boots, so thought it might be irritation from the boots in the 90+ degree weather.

Day two: it was getting worse. Still didn’t know what it was but it didn’t seem to bother him much so figured it would eventually go away.

Day three: Drew the outline of it with a marker to track if it was getting bigger or smaller. Noticed small blisters forming.  Decided to go to urgent care. The urgent care doctor wasn’t able to identify it either. Ruled out poison oak, doctor thought it might be some variety of poison sumac and treated it like a burn with bandages.

day 3

Day 3

day 5

Day 5

Day five:  changed the bandage.  Look how horrible it is.  Can’t imagine this poor kid.

Almost two weeks out and it’s almost healed over but will likely have permanent scarring.  Based on this experience here’s what you need to know:

Cow Parsnip is reputed to be native to the Northwest.  It looks similar  to Giant Hogweed which is not native.  Although I have read conflicting sources about the origins of the plant so don’t know for sure and some sources say you can eat it….I’m tempted to try and fry it out of revenge for what it did to this sweet child!

day 11

Day 11

Day 12

Day 12

Cow parsnip juices contain a phototoxin that acts on contact with skin, triggered by exposure to ultraviolet light. Reaction differs sharply among individuals — from next to nothing to a mild rash to blistering and severe dermatitis, depending on the sensitivity of the individual. Generally, heat, sweating and wet skin intensifies the symptoms. The light-triggered reaction happens quickly.  So your skin will react as a sunburn since the chemical binds to the skin.  If you use a string timmer (weed whacker) be careful since this spreads the juices and stalk everywhere.  Be sure to wear long sleeves, long pants and gloves to protect the skin.  If you are exposed, wash the skin immediately.  In the case of my friend, it took almost a week to identify it and the damage was already done.

More resources for reading:

"Cow Parsnip". Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons -

“Cow Parsnip”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons –

Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed