This is probably the most difficult post I’ve made regarding wild edibles as I’ve been pondering on the ramifications of this plant as a foragable resource and if the promotion of its foragability alone is an act of irresponsibility in itself or is it more responsible to promote awareness of hazards within foraging ,
I think back to my first seasons of foraging and I can say it was without eating a single plant , mushroom or wild edible I made a pact with myself to be able to identify the dangers of foraging before I could find the prizes mainly rammed into me by my father who had a keen interest in the outdoors and in a time when foraging was less publicly deemed as an exciting skill .
It seems like a bizarre twist of fate that one of my most staple foraged finds comes with a potential massive hazard luckily one that is easily avoided with a small amount of knowledge .
I’m sure all foragers have heard of the extreme dangers associated with giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) as it is undoubtedly the most publicised danger outside if the fungi world within foraging And quite rightly so the sap of the giant hogweed many of Apiaceae (carrot family ) contain chemicals called furanocoumarins which when combined with sunlight cause phytophotodermatitis which in short is a painful land violent reaction of the skin which lasts for varied lengths of time from months to years , and can present itself in the form of simply staining of the skin to violent blistering burns and life changing scars ,
It seems that giant hogweed has the highest reaction rate due to its concentration of the furanocoumarins but equally as dangerous is the wild parsnip ( Pastinaca sativa ) now I’ve seen burns from parsnip first hand due to the lack of knowledge on behalf of the persons either clearing ground or harvesting the roots ,
Now my confession is that I absolutely love the tastes available from the plant and quite frankly I’m stuck between using the information about the dangers to frighten the life out of you or giving you the information to make a more educated choice about joining me in taking advantage of the foragable flavours on offer.
So phytophotodermatitis occurs from the plant when the stem or leaves bleeds sap containing furanocoumarins upon there reaction to damage / stress this we know .
the plant offers two viable edible parts these being the roots and the seeds so knowing that the danger from this plant is not so much about poisoning but a physical danger we can take precautions to limit the chance of harm ,
Firstly weather is a key factor when harvesting any part , we know phytophotodermatitis needs sunlight to become a problem so early morning or late day foraging is a good start or even a good rainy day is ideal removing a major factor ,
the second is that the sap actually needs to touch the skin to cause any reaction so gloves are a good precautionary aid.
I also carry water to wash my hands well when harvesting any part of the plant regardless of knowingly being touched by the sap.
The easiest way to harvest the seeds is to completely snip off the umbrella shaped head strait into a bag without the need to touch at all then transferred into paper bag to dry lends I self to complete risk free harvesting ,
The roots are not so simple they are not short fat stubby roots that you will recognise as shop bought parsnips but often extremely long and wirery roots that take some digging my suggestions on doing this include ,
* wear long sleeved tops covering your arms as brushing against the plant is difficult to avoid .
* again only wear long trousers covering all skin to avoid contact whilst digging around on your knees .
* buy a baseball cap as the peak will limit the chance of your face touching the plant or surrounding second year growths
* make a disposable digging stick to prevent sap being carried on tools and risking potential infection at a later time.
As regards to harvesting the root the plant is biennial and within the first year the rosette of leaves indicate a harvestable root as within the second year the root is woody and inedible but do generate the tall stems which produce the flower and seed ,
As regards to time of year to harvest the prime time is at first frost end of autumn beginning of winter for basic roasting , but all year for uses such as a great parsnip relish or a parsnip wine just be aware that the roots are much smaller than cultivated stock yet taste exactly the same no special taste just a standard parsnip which is no bad thing but worth noting it’s also worth noting that even stripping an entire area of year one plants still does not seem to effect following years crop .
As regards to the seed well I never thought that I would find a contender for the no1 wild seed/ spice to the hogweed seed but I have they are somewhat sweeter and more aromatic than hogweed yet to strong in flavour for uses such as seed cakes my recommendation is to mix sea salt and parsnip seeds into a grinder and use as an amazing dressing / spice one I welcome to my larder and will continue to harvest and promote .
So in parting my advise is take stock use the info given and make a personal decision on the risk / reward of adding this to your wild edible larder what is good for one May not be good for you a risk is just that a risk and even with precautions accidents will occur .