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Heracleum sphondylium montanum - (Schleich. ex Gaudin.)Briq.

Common Name Cow Parsnip
Family Apiaceae or Umbelliferae
USDA hardiness 4-8
Known Hazards Many members of this genus, including this species[65], contain furanocoumarins. These have carcinogenic, mutagenic and phototoxic properties. The fresh foliage can cause dermatitis[21]. If the juice and hairs of the outer skin are left on the face and mouth, they can cause blisters[212]. This effect is especially prevalent for people with fair complexions[256].
Habitats Rich damp soils of prairies and mountains, especially along streams and in open woods in Western N. America[212].
Range N. America to W. Asia.
Edibility Rating  
Other Uses  
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating  
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Full shade Semi-shade Full sun
Heracleum sphondylium montanum Cow Parsnip

Heracleum sphondylium montanum Cow Parsnip

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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Heracleum sphondylium montanum is a PERENNIAL growing to 2.4 m (7ft 10in).
It is hardy to zone (UK) 5 and is not frost tender. It is in flower in July, and the seeds ripen in August. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Insects.The plant is self-fertile.
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.


H. cordatum. H. lanatum. Michx. H. maximum.


Woodland Garden Dappled Shade; Shady Edge; not Deep Shade;

Edible Uses

Edible Parts: Flowers;  Leaves;  Root;  Stem.
Edible Uses: Condiment;  Salt.

Root - cooked[2, 46, 85, 94]. Tastes like a swede[155, 183]. Used like potatoes, though it is considered to be poisonous by some writers[213]. The peeled stem can be eaten raw but is best cooked[2, 61, 183]. The unpeeled stem can be used when young, or just the inner tissue of older stems can be used, before the plants flower[85, 94]. For people not used to the flavour, they are best cooked in two changes of water when they make a tasty celery-like vegetable[213]. Another report says that, despite the strong odour of the leaves and outer skin, the peeled young stems are mild and sweet, resembling celery in flavour[256]. The stems cannot be eaten raw in large quantities because they give a burning sensation in the mouth[257]. The stems are highly nutritious, containing up to 18% protein[213]. Leaves and young shoots - raw or cooked[55, 85, 94, 118]. Cooked as greens or added to salads[183]. Young flowers[46, 61, 105]. No further details. The dried seeds are used as a flavouring for soups, stews and potato salads[85, 183]. The dried base of the plant and ashes from the burnt leaves are used as a salt substitute[183].

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.

Antidandruff;  Antirheumatic;  Antispasmodic;  Carminative;  Febrifuge;  Odontalgic;  Stimulant;  TB;  

Cow parsnip was widely employed medicinally by a large number of native North American Indian tribes who used it to treat a wide variety of complaints, but especially as a poultice on bruises, sores etc[257]. It is little used in modern herbalism, though perhaps it merits further investigation. All parts of the plant are antirheumatic, antispasmodic, carminative, febrifuge, odontalgic and stimulant[21, 94, 155, 172, 257]. The leaves are tonic[257]. They have been used in the treatment of colds[257]. A soothing drink made from the leaves is used to treat sore throats[257]. A poultice of the heated leaves has been applied to minor cuts, sore muscles etc[257]. An infusion of the fresh young stems has been used in the treatment of diarrhoea[257]. It has also been used as a wash to remove warts[257]. The plant has been used in the treatment of epilepsy[213]. A tea made from the roots is used in the treatment of indigestion, colds, stomach cramps, rheumatism, sore throats, TB etc[222, 257]. Externally, the root is used as a poultice on sores, bruises, swellings, boils, rheumatic joints, VD scabs etc, whilst a bit of root has been held on an aching tooth to reduce the pain[222, 257]. The root can be crushed, mixed with water and used as an antidandruff hair wash[257]. The root contains psoralen, which is being investigated for its use in the treatment of psoriasis, leukaemia and AIDS[222]. The seed has been used to treat severe headaches[257].

Other Uses

Dye;  Musical;  Packing;  Repellent;  Straw.

Whistles, flutes, straws etc can be made from the hollow stems[99, 257]. The leaves are used as a covering for baskets of fruit etc[99]. A yellow dye is obtained from the roots[257]. An infusion of the blossoms, rubbed on the body, repels flies and mosquitoes[257].

Cultivation details

Succeeds in any ordinary garden soil, doing best in moist soils or deep woodland[1, 55, 60].


Seed - sow mid to late spring or early autumn in situ. Division in autumn.

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Found In

Countries where the plant has been found are listed here if the information is available

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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(Schleich. ex Gaudin.)Briq.

Botanical References


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Readers comment

Dennis   Thu Apr 28 15:04:52 2005

I am keen to find out more about the cowslip and its stem as I can clearly remember an inner voice talking to me at about it. I was aged about eleven at the time, and I had cut down some stem to see if it would make a peashooter, I can clearly remember a voice (something like a voiceover)clearly telling me that 'one day in the future you will need to eat this in order to save your life'. I have never told anyone about hearing voices (who would), and as it is the only time it has ever happened to me it really registered home and I have never forgoten it, thinking that if there was every anything wrong with me I could go back to the wood where it grew and look for some stems. Well here I am at 52 with problems that I keep only to myself and investigating for the first time and considering whether or not I should try it this summer as my head once told me. Having found out from this site that it won't poison me I shall give it a try and if anything changes I shall come back here and report my findings. Please god it does help me as time does not seem to be on my side. Thank you for all the information.

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Subject : Heracleum sphondylium montanum  
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