State issues warning on 'poison parsnip'

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BURLINGTON — Vermont health and agriculture officials are warning Vermonters to steer clear of a common weed often seen along the state's roadsides. The so-called "poison parsnip" packs a punch that can leave you with the equivalent of a second-degree burn.

Formally known as wild parsnip, these plants grow along roadsides and unmaintained areas throughout Vermont, with flowers that look like a yellow version of Queen Anne's lace.

The plant produces a sap that contains chemicals called psoralens that react to sunlight. Skin that comes in contact with the sap becomes hyper-sensitive to ultraviolet light, and can result in redness, burns similar to a second-degree sunburn, painful rashes and raised blisters. Reactions to the sap and sunlight usually begin 24 to 48 hours after contact.

Wild parsnip is the same plant as the common garden parsnip served in soups and stews. The flower heads are the second-year growth from the carrot-like roots. The plant is a close relative of carrots, parsley, angelica and giant hogweed, all of which can cause similar skin reactions in sensitive individuals.

In order for a reaction to occur, skin must come into direct contact with the sap. This is different than plants such as poison ivy or stinging nettles, which can spread their chemical defenses simply through contact with the plant itself.

If you get wild parsnip sap on your skin:

- Wash the skin thoroughly with soap and water as soon as possible.

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- 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 among the plants:

- Wear clothing that covers your arms and legs.

- Be careful of exposure when mowing or weed whacking.

- Work with the plant on cloudy days.

- Wash your skin immediately if you come in contact with the sap.

- Wash clothes that may have been exposed to the sap.


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