The Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food and Markets and the Department of Health want Vermonters to be aware that a common weed found along many Vermont roadsides can cause painful rashes and raised blisters, similar to second-degree sunburn. "Poison parsnip" (Pastinaca sativa L.), also known as wild parsnip, is found throughout the state. The plant produces a sap that reacts to sunlight, and skin that comes in contact with the sap becomes hyper-sensitive to ultraviolet light. It may take several hours after exposure for burns to develop, and some of the skin damage can be serious.
Wild parsnip produces small yellow flowers that look like Queen Anne's Lace. It is a close relative of carrots, parsley, angelica and giant hogweed, all of which can cause similar skin reactions in sensitive individuals.
"This innocent looking flower can cause a lot of pain and discomfort," said Tim Schmalz, plant industry section chief for the Agency of Agriculture. "The good news is that in order for a reaction to occur, the sap has to come in direct contact with your skin. You're not likely to get a reaction through casual contact or brushing up against the plant, like you would with poison ivy or stinging nettles. Summer in Vermont is great. Just be mindful when gardening, hiking, biking or otherwise enjoying the outdoors, and wild parsnip won't ruin your fun!"
If you get wild parsnip sap on your skin:
• Wash the skin thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible.
• Protect the exposed skin from sunlight for at least 48 hours.
• If you experience a skin reaction, call your health care provider.
If you need to work with or near the plant:
• Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.
• Wash clothes that come in contact with the sap.
• Work with the plant on cloudy days.
• If you are using string trimmers or power mowers in areas where this plant grows, wear eye/face protection, in addition to long pants, long sleeves, and gloves.
To learn more about wild parsnip – visit http://www.healthvermont.gov/enviro/outdoor/wildparsnip.aspx.