Nature's Secret Larder - Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

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Bushcraft Blog

Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)
22nd March 2009

Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium)

Hogweed is a member of the umbelifer family. This family contains some of the most poisonous and deadly species found in Britain, so always take special care when collecting or using any of them. Hogweed is also very similar to Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum. This huge plant (up to 6m) has a photosensitive juice which will cause burning to the skin and mouth if exposed to light. This can cause life-long changes to skin colour and may leave you with permanent sensitivity to sunlight. In fact, many members of this genus contain mutagenic, carcinogenic and phototoxic properties.


Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium

Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium


This sturdy plant, also known as cow parsnip was originally used as pigs fodder hence the name hogweed. It can be found in most hedgerows, and most readers will be very familiar with it, even if you don’t know it by name! The flowers form large umbrella shapes and attract lots of flies, mainly due to the nasty scent it produces.

LEAVES – the young leaves may be eaten raw or cooked.

SHOOTS – As above – plus a sugary substance can be extracted from them and used a sugar substitute.

ROOT – the root may also be eaten and is best boiled. Always take care when using the root of any species. Each year in the Europe several people poison themselves (often fatally) from eating the roots of wrong species. See cautions above.

 

I have added some notes to the comments below, as it seems that quite a few of you are confusing this species with that of giant hogweed (please see original notes above). Thank you.


Comments

Dawn on 14/09/16

It's been very interesting reading all these comments. I have COMMON hogweed not giant and it has burnt all my horses skin because of eating it. Any white skin has now massive thick scabs on it and I'm having to detox their liver and kidneys. I've done quite some research and am alarmed that some sites have described Hemlock with purple blotches on the stems as cow parsley.!!!
All I can say is cow parsley usually starts earlier in spring with feathery carrot type leaves and the stem has veins a bit like celery a lighter green colour.
Hemlock starts a little later and has dark green feathery leaves with smooth stems and purple blotches ALSO VERY POISONOUS.
HEMLOCK has celery vein type stems but much broader leaves.
My hemlock doesn't grow as tall as the giant variety but seeing my horses now cannot graze in a certain paddock and I have to eradicate this horrible toxic plant ... You won't get me trying to cook it!!!

Jill on 05/01/16

The reason I looked at this site was because my dog now nearly 11 has for some years snatched at the leaves of this plant when we are walking eating a small ammount,so I was interested to see what medicinal uses it had, she also nips at cow parsley leaves

maxine on 02/09/15

I seem to go more inflamed,if i put ANY creams including steroid cream ,antihistomine, even aftersun,or sun screen,just do not know what to use to calm it down.I am not as bad as some people who have commented they are, Really easy to get infected,by one wee contact with giant hogweed!

Ian Cuthbert on 01/09/15

It's good to remember that not everyone reacts to a particular irritant in the same way. What can cause a nasty and painful rash for one person may not affect another at all. People also have allergies which can be very specific and have varying symptoms and the severity can greatly vary also.

Of course, it's always best to be on the safe side, but we also should beware of spreading alarm about native plants that are likely safe in most circumstances. I've collected stems and flower heads from this plant a number of times in my life with no consequences, but I appreciate others may be affected differently. But it's a beautiful plant, hugely beneficial to a number of wildlife species and and important part of our wild flora.

Jennifer on 07/07/15

I have twice been badly 'burned' by common hogweed, once many years ago when strimming in a sundress. It certainly was not the giant species so don't tell people that this is always the culprit.. Without thinking, I strimmed some low-growing shoots, re-emerging, a week ago, thinking the debris would be at wellie level, but still got my left arm badly blistered & itchy. Anti-histamine cream doesn't help, but very cold cloths are a bit of comfort.

Laura on 26/07/14

My husband works outside for a utility co and about 6 yrs ago developed a serious rash on the front of his lower leg which looks just like the photos. He went to a dermatologist which told him it was the result of frostbite but I never believed it as it developed over the summer. When he is in the sun it appears to get much worse. He now has it on both lower legs. Just wondered after all these years if there is anything he should put on it. He wears fire retardant clothing when he works but tends to put on shorts when home but does not use sunscreen when outside.

Daniel on 17/04/14

Harvesting this sounds as dangerous as mushroom harvesting, unless your 100% what your doing, do not do it.

Mike Green on 15/07/13

I can also verify that I have suffered very severe blistering and scarring after inadvertantly cutting hogweed with a brushcutter and being "splattered" with sap and pulp on my arms and neck in strong sunlight. This was ten years ago and I am now extremely careful when brushcutting as there is an abundance of hogweed in our area. This plant is definitely heracleum sphondylium, not giant hogweed, and exposure to the sap does casue severe burn like blisters especially if affected skin is exposed to the sun. Thanks.

Richard on 28/06/13

A friend of miine told me that Hogwort was capable of producing dreams.

He said it could either be smoked or made into a tea.

I made a small pot of tea last night before going to bed and I had the best nights sleep I

can recall for a long time!

Anyone else had this experiance?

DS on 22/06/13

Chris - the plant that was a favourite of Gandhi and contains high amounts of vitamin A and omega-3s is little hogweed (purslane), not common hogweed.

Kris on 10/06/13

Hi Christopher,

Thanks for the comment. Yes, you're right, the culprit of burning is almost always Giant Hogweed, often in it's young state when people think it's the normal variety. However, sensitive skin can suffer reactions with the non-giant type, but most of us will suffer no ill effects from it.

Cheers
Kris

Christopher Neave on 08/06/13

In the late 50's and the 60's I used to collect hogweed in Norfolk UK for my rabbits. They loved it and as I had a few of them they ate quite a lot of hogweed. I never had any blisters or skin problems at all so maybe it is just giant hogweed that causes it.
With short sleeves I put my arm down amongst the leaves to break it off near the root.
Never eaten it but after seeing an article in The Sun Newspaper I will try it this year.
Apparently it was Mahatma Gandhi's favourite green and has 6 times as much vitamin A as spinach, 7 times more beta carotene as carrots and contains more omega-3s than virtually any other leafy vegetable.

Jackie on 03/04/13

When I lived in Cornwall many years ago I used to garden in shorts. Our 'lawn' was basically mown grass/weeds, among them common hogweed. On hot days in 1974 I became aware of stinging sensations on my knees and shins after I had crawled along the lawn edge trimming the grass. Thinking nothing of it I brushed, then washed it off. THE NEXT DAY, I came up in very, very sensitive and painful high (about 0.5cm high) blisters which were excruciating to touch in exactly the spot where the hogweed had come into contact with my skin. The blisters and the painful area lasted weeks and left scarring which is with me today. This happened long before I made the acquaintance of giant hogweed - at a VERY safe distance. I can therefore say FOR CERTAIN that common hogweed inflicts the same sort of damage as its nastier relative. BEWARE!

nicholas on 06/10/12

In Romania, common hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) enjoys much popularity as a healing herb for sexual problems (both in men and women). It is also called "Romanian ginseng" and when used as a tincture it's a powerfull aphrodisiac and sexual booster. It's mainly used in male and female infertility, vascular and hormonal impotence, low libido.
It is also used to boost overall body energy and strength (like ginseng).

mike on 03/08/12

i brushed up against a hogweed plant with the handlebars of my dirtbike and now my hands are ithcy to the point of screaming does anyone know if it the rash spreads when you scratch it ? and what home remedies can you use to releive the itch ? and can hog weed flowers be yellow ? thanks

wil on 29/06/12

ive just eaten some boiled hogweed shoots, that i picked yesterday. Cant say i agree with them being the best vegatable ive ever taste. They are certainly an acquired taste and needed alot more boiling that i though nessesary. Maybe steamed they taste nicer? Im not sure ill be eating these again any time soon, especially if there are much nicer nettle tops around!

matt on 17/06/12

I just strimmed a river bank full of giant hogweed thinking it was cow parsley like which your talking about with no top on and got covered in burns and gained a kidney infection and pain to my kidneys. went to the doctor and told them about it and asked if the pain in my liver and kidneys has anything to do with this and they just said "don't know. here take these.. pills for UTI which did'nt do anything. in the end i had to doctor myself by finding information on google and just ate lots of veg which were good for getting toxins out of the kidneys and liver. DOCTORS are not DOCTORS in the UK anymore. You give them symptoms and they give you pills. A little bit like Quick Fit. Good ol NHS.

Emma on 30/05/12

I came into contact with the sap from some young common hogweed plants about the size of the ones in the picture above, when I fell from my bicycle onto a verge where it was growing. It was definitely common hogweed, not the giant variety, as the leaves were as pictured, and did not have the appearance of the more finely divided leaves of the giant variety. I immediately recognised what the plant was, and washed my skin with water I had with me, but three days later I still have an itchy rash. Apparently, not all common hogweed plants produce the furanocoumarins in their sap that cause the burning, but it is certainly not unheard of. Handle this plant with care!

Emma on 29/05/12

I came into contact with the sap from some young common hogweed plants about the size of the ones in the picture above, when I fell from my bicycle onto a verge where it was growing. It was definitely common hogweed, not the giant variety, as the leaves were as pictured, and did not have the appearance of the more finely divided leaves of the giant variety. I immediately recognised what the plant was, and washed my skin with water I had with me, but three days later I still have an itchy rash. Apparently, not all common hogweed plants produce the furanocoumarins in their sap that cause the burning, but it is certainly not unheard of. Handle this plant with care!

Raymond Yarwood on 17/03/12

I have been eating hogweed ( Heracleum spondylium) for a number of years. In fact I encourage it along with alexanders in my forest garden here in Cornwall. I am reminded of a well known garden writer who was reported to have written 'this is uneqivocally the best vegetable I have ever tasted'. He cooked the asparagus like shoots in butter. Maria Treban, the best selling Austrian author, of 'Health from Gods Garden' She states ..'the hollow stems smell and taste rather like carrots, and in the spring they can be diced and used as a tasty addition to salads, together with the young leaves and shoots.
I hope these comments are helpful

MK on 06/03/12

the blisters are due to a thing called GIANT HOGWEED!!!! this is a very poisious plant. when you come in contavt with the clear sap it causes blisters then it burns you. the skin will reman sensitive for years after. oh yeah and stay out of the sun after you touch it. WASH HANDS WELL AFTER AND REMOVE LATE APRIL EARLY MAY!!

t cooper on 07/06/11

im a landscaper and i currently have the blisters on my arms and neck due to hogweed. i recomend to anyone to wear protective clothing. The blisters apperared after i had been sat out in the sun and the sap off the hogweed got to work. i went to the doctors about mine and i was put on anti biotics and anti inflamitaries.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Although some people have a recation to hogweed, it was most likely caused by Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum as this plant contans photo-toxins which cause blistering.

Scott on 28/04/11

I was striming an never noticed that I had chopped down hogweed. The next day my arms were starting blister an now I have reedy brown scars on my arms.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Although some people have a recation to hogweed, it was most likely caused by Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum as this plant contans photo-toxins which cause blistering.

debbie on 02/10/10

my brother has just been affected by this plant and ended up in hospital - it appears if you suffer from asthma and hayfever it makes it even worse.
his arms are all blistered and now bandaged up and cant go out in the light - not very good for a landscape gardener.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Although some people have a recation to hogweed, it was most likely caused by Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum as this plant contans photo-toxins which cause blistering.

MARK PORRITT on 10/07/10

whenever strimming always be aware of coming into contact with hogweed and if possible do not strim them at all as the sap,if contacted with the skin,will burn you.Aways wear clothing that will protect arms,legs and wear a visor that covers the whole of your face.I personally have experienced the blistering of skin due to not being properly dressed and will never make that painful mistake again.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Although some people have a recation to hogweed, it was most likely caused by Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum as this plant contans photo-toxins which cause blistering.

Liz Whitmore-Stewart on 26/06/09

It doesn't seem to matter how very careful I am being, I still manage to get Giant Hogweed burns when my strimmer just looks at a garden containing it! Itchy spots appear after a couple of days after exposure, then they blister and look quite unsightly. Sun block does help to quell the irritation if you are outside in the sunshine (I am a gardener, so have to be out). Aloe Vera is said to help, has anyone else tried it successfully?

Clara on 11/06/09

I was strimming tall grass and stupidly was not wearing protective clothing. Not realising untill after, I strimmed giant hogweed and the sap of the plant landed on my arms, neck and leg. I did not notice untill a couple of days later when red marks began to appear. this was folowed by blistering, scabbing and now discolouration and some scarring.It has been a few weeks now, but slowely it seems to be healing. I would resommend to anyone who gets burnt to go straight to a doctor who can give you some specific steriod-based creams that will speed up the healing and reduce the risk of scarring. Unfortunately, I did not realise it was hog weed until two weeks ago so it's too late for me. But im using alovera and vitamin E cream which hopefully wil reduce the scarring. hope this is helpfull.

Kris on 30/05/09

Hi Julie. Hogweed can cause skin irritation but rarely leaves any lasting marks. Giant hogweed on the other hand is a bit nastier, and will cause blistering to the skin due to photo toxins which are set off by sun light. In bad cases giant hogweed can leave scaring. However, I’m sure you would remember giant hogweed as it’s huge. For obvious reasons I can't say either way, but I would suggest having a doctor check it out as there is most likely a treatment they could offer. I hope it eases for you soon.

julie walton on 30/05/09

I have this really distinctive rash or marks on the in side of my arm, bot have no recollection of knocking my self. It was my mother who mention being any where hog weed. first the marks were really red almost like a burn , then blistering a few days later. if this has been caused by this plant, will the marks scare? does anyone know, if so let me know.Cheers


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