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Summer Vacation Contact with Little Known Wildflower Can Damage Your Skin for Years

Tim Boyer's picture

It’s summertime, which means that while traveling along America’s highways and byways there is the temptation to stop along the road, take in the view, and perhaps pick a few attractive wildflowers along the way. However, according to a recent CBS News Health report, doing so can lead to painful burns that will scar your skin for years if you touch one summertime plant that is often mistaken for dill or Queen Anne’s Lace.

Growing as high as 4 feet tall with attractive yellow flowers, Wild Parsnip is a dangerous plant that upon contact could ruin your summertime vacation and put you in a hospital.

According to Iowa State University researchers, Wild Parsnip originates from Europe where it was harvested for its edible roots. In the U.S. it can be found growing wild along roadsides and field edges, or in pastures and other natural areas such as parks. Due to its similar appearance to some herbs such as dill, it may be mistakenly collected during edible plant foraging or for use in an herbal tea that could prove to be highly toxic.

“It is extremely dangerous,” says Jack Boyt of Iowa, whose son while mowing down weeds came in contact with Wild Parsnip that resulted in his arms, shoulders and back almost entirely covered with burns, blisters and welts.

"It was bad, worse than anything he's ever had," Mr. Boyt told CBS News. “The blisters are big and they stay with you for weeks. And the scars from the blisters stay with you for years.”

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According to the CBS News report, Wild Parsnip contains a chemical in its sap called “psoralen” that when touched and exposed to the UV rays from sunlight causes a reaction known as "phytophotodermatitis" ―a chemical reaction that destroys skin cells appearing as a reddening of the skin that manifests as rashes of elongated spots or streaks with blister formation and sensations of burning and scalding pain.

The skin damage from the psoralen causes a dark red or brownish discoloration that can last for several months with scarring left behind that could remain for several years.

If you come in contact with Wild Parsnip immediately wash your affected areas with warm soapy water. For limited contact with the plant, wet compresses, oatmeal baths and an antihistamine may reduce itching or blistering and provide some relief. However, if a large area of skin is affected, seek medical attention immediately. All clothing suspected of having touched this poisonous plant should be washed separately in hot water with detergent.

Image Source: Courtesy of Iowa State University


CBS News Health report― “Poisonous plants like wild parsnip could spoil your summer”

Iowa State University― “Weed watch: Wild parsnip and poison hemlock”