Almost everyone is familiar with poison ivy, but that is not the most dangerous plant you can encounter. Meet the giant hogweed and its poisonous relatives.
Originally from the Caucasus mountain region of Eurasia, researchers have confirmed the presence of this federally listed “noxious weed” in Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Illinois, Washington, and Oregon.
The sap of the giant hogweed contains toxic chemicals called furanocoumarins. They cause severe burns and blistering when exposed to UV light from the sun. The reaction — called phytophotodermatitis — is similar to how some antibiotics you take make your skin more sensitive to UV light.
“The more sap you touch, the greater damage it causes,” Naja Kraus, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s Giant Hogweed Program Coordinator, tells GoodHousekeeping.com. “Once you get it on you, it makes your skin unable to protect itself from the sun.”
The Medical Survivalist posted a warning about the plant along with its some what less dangerous cousin the “Poison Parsnip.”
We’ve been discussing foraging and plant identification, and since it’s that time of year that this beauty is in bloom now’s a good time to revisit this post:
So while on my kayak trip a couple of weeks back I stumbled upon this local beauty called Poison Parsnip, the same family as Hogweed, named so for good reason. Contact with this plant will cause the burns and blisters you see to the right (stock photos, none of our party sustained any burns). A path needed to be cleared before everyone could pass through. Just another example of why carrying nitrile gloves in your med kit is a must, never know what you’ll run into.
If you get a parsnip burn, relieving the symptoms comes first. The affected area can be covered with a cool, wet cloth. If blisters are present, try to keep them from rupturing for as long as possible. You’ll hear many health professionals say the skin of a blister is “nature’s bandage,” if blisters do end up pop if you can leave the skin in place. To avoid infection, keep the area clean and apply an antibiotic cream/ointment.
Avoiding exposure in the first place is the wisest move. By learning to recognize the plant you can steer clear of it, or protect yourself by wearing gloves, long pants, and long-sleeve shirts. Some people pull up the wild parnsips in the evening, when exposure to sunlight is minimal. If you do get the plant juice on your skin, the sooner you thoroughly wash the area, the less you will be affected.
The mechanism of injury are chemicals called psoralens that cause what dermatologists call “phyto-photo-dermatitis.” That means an inflammation (itis) of the skin (derm) induced by a plant (phyto) with the help of sunlight (photo). When absorbed by skin, furocoumarins are energized by ultraviolet light which causes them to bind with nuclear DNA and cell membranes, ultimately destroying them, but the injury may take time to be visualized.
So be on the look out for this plant when ever you are out in about in nature.