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Heracleum sphondylium - L.
Common Name Cow Parsnip, Eltrot
Family Apiaceae or Umbelliferae
USDA hardiness 4-8
Known Hazards Many members of this genus, including many of the sub-species in this species[65], contain furanocoumarins. These have carcinogenic, mutagenic and phototoxic properties. See below for more details.
Habitats Moist grassland and ditches, by hedges and in woods[7, 17].
Range Europe, including Britain, south of latitude 61° to western N. Africa, west and northern Asia.
Edibility Rating  
Other Uses  
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Full shade Semi-shade Full sun


Heracleum sphondylium Cow Parsnip, Eltrot

Heracleum sphondylium Cow Parsnip, Eltrot
Physical Characteristics
 icon of manicon of flower
Heracleum sphondylium is a BIENNIAL/PERENNIAL growing to 1.8 m (6ft).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 5 and is not frost tender. It is in flower from Jun to September, and the seeds ripen from Jul to October. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, flies.The plant is self-fertile.
It is noted for attracting wildlife.
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in full shade (deep woodland) semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil.


Woodland Garden Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; not Deep Shade; Meadow; Hedgerow;
Edible Uses
Edible Parts: Leaves;  Root;  Stem.
Edible Uses: Sweetener.

Stem and young shoots - raw or cooked[5, 7, 9, 17]. Used as a green vegetable, when harvested just as they are sprouting from the ground they are somewhat like asparagus in flavour[183]. The rind is somewhat acrid[115]. The leaf stems are tied in bundles and dried in the sun until they turn yellow[238]. A sweet substance resembling sugar forms on the dried stems and is considered to be a great delicacy[2, 115, 183, 238]. The peduncles, before flowering, can be eaten as a vegetable or added to soups[183]. Root - cooked. It is usually boiled[7].
Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.

Antidiarrhoeal;  Antipsoriatic;  Aphrodisiac;  Digestive;  Expectorant;  Sedative.

The roots and the leaves are aphrodisiac, digestive, mildly expectorant and sedative[7, 9, 238]. The plant is little used in modern herbalism but has been employed in the treatment of laryngitis and bronchitis[9, 238]. A tincture made from the aerial parts of the plant has also been used to relieve general debility, though it is uncertain how it works[7, 238]. The plant is harvested as it comes into flower and can be dried for later use[9].


Other Uses
None known
Cultivation details
A very easily grown plant, succeeding in any ordinary garden soil[1, 238], doing best in moist soils or deep woodland[1]. Grows well in full sun or partial shade[238]. This species contains a large number of sub-species. Some, but by no means all of them, can cause various problems as detailed at the top of this record. Subspecies transylvanicum, pyrenaicum, montanum, orsinii and alpinum are distinctly phototoxic, subspecies sphondylium and sibiricum are not phototoxic whilst subspecies granatense and ternatum vary in their toxicity[65]. A good bee plant[108].
Seed - sow mid to late spring or early autumn in situ. Division in autumn.
Other Names
Found In
Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status
IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :
Related Plants


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Botanical References
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Readers comment
Sotar   Sun Jul 20 2008
It's worth noting that in Poland and further eastwards it used to be a very important green vegetable. People would cover it with water in large barrels and let it go sour. The fermentation process would take from 2 to several days, depending on the temperature. The product was something between sauerkraut and beer, being sour and containing small quantities of alcohol. That product was then used for making soups, that started the tradition of borshch.

Life and Health an article about how the plant is connected to borshch

   Feb 4 2011 12:00AM
This plant should also be searchable under the name hogweed or common hogweed. If you google cow parsnip the first results returned give you Heracleum maximum which is another species in the Heracleum genus.
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Subject : Heracleum sphondylium  

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