Cow Parsnip

Scientific name: Heracleum maximum
Abundance: rare
What: young leaves, stem, roots, seeds
How: leaves-raw/cooked; stem and roots-peel then boil; seeds-dry then add to soups and stews
Where: shade, borders, woods, marsh
When: spring, summer, fall
Nutritional Value: sugars/calories in stem and roots
Dangers: WARNING: Similar-looking to deadly, foul-smelling hemlock! Also, juice and hairs of cow parsnip can irritate skin and contains suspected cancer-causing chemicals.

Leaf Arrangement: Alternate, with leaves large and deeply lobed.

Leaf Shape: Broadly ovate, with deep lobes and a serrated or toothed margin. Mature leaves can be over 16" across at their widest.

Venation: Palmate, with a prominent central vein and visible lateral veins branching off in each lobe.

Margin: Serrated or toothed, particularly towards the leaf tip.

Leaf Color: Bright to dark green, with a slightly coarse texture.

Flower Structure: Compound umbels, large and flat-topped, with numerous tiny flowers in each umbel.

Flower Color: White, sometimes with a slight pinkish hue.

Fruit: Flat, oval, two-seeded schizocarps.

Seeds: Small, flat, and attached in pairs.

Stem: Tall, stout, and hollow, often with purplish or reddish blotches.

Hairs: Generally hairless, but the stem may have fine bristles.

Height: Typically grows between 4 to 10 feet tall.

Cow parsnip plant (almost seven feet tall).

Closeup of flowers.

Another view of flowers.

Mature seedhead of cow Parsnip.
Cow Parsnip

Leaves of cow parsnips are huge, well over twelve inches across.

North American distribution, attributed to U. S. Department of Agriculture.

Look for Cow Parsnips in partially shady areas where water (usually a stream) meets woods. They seem to prefer hardwood forests to pine.

While not quite on par with Pokeweed, Cow Parsnips do require caution when harvesting and preparing the young shoots. Like Pokeweed, harvest the shoots when they're under 9" tall but you'll also want to take the cow parsnip's root. Wear gloves and arm guards while collecting them so the furanocoumarin chemical in the sap and surface needles can't adhere to your skin. If this chemical does get on you it'll make those areas of skin super-sensitive to sunlight, resulting in patches of 2nd degree sunburns.

Still the plant is quite tasty. Saute the diced-up leaves, stem, and roots in butter, oil, or bacon grease along with onions or garlic for a few minutes. They'll shrink a little but not disappearing like spinach. Hit them with a dash of cedar-infused apple cider vinegar and have at them!

Buy my book! Outdoor Adventure Guides Foraging covers 70 of North America's tastiest and easy to find wild edibles shown with the same big pictures as here on the Foraging Texas website.

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