Hansen's Northwest Native Plant Database

Heracleum lanatum (Cow Parsnip, Indian Celery, Pushki)


 Plantae – Plants


 Tracheobionta – Vascular plants


 Spermatophyta – Seed plants


 Magnoliophyta – Flowering plants


 Magnoliopsida – Dicotyledons




 Apiales Family Apiaceae – Carrot family


 Heracleum L. – cowparsnip


 Heracleum maximum Bartram – common cowparsnip

Note: Throughout the years I've written short articles for our website's home pages (home pages are the front page of a website) about these plants. They are now included at the bottom of this page, and are illustrated by botanical drawings and paintings, some of which are from books published from 1500 - 1900.

I love this massive native perennial, towering at 8-10.’ I like to cut one of the huge flower heads and stick it in a vase indoors. They give a softly vanilla scent to the air.

The central stem forms an umbrella of smaller stems adorned with huge, coarsely toothed leaves.

The flower head is similarly an umbrella of tiny, white flowers. Butterflies love the flowers, as do beneficial insects like ladybugs.

Native along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts (USDA 3-9), Cow Parsnip likes a rich, moist soil and plenty of room to grow.

Although plants may last only a few years, they will reseed themselves generously before they pass.

This Heracleum is a fine choice for the back of a perennial bed, behind small shrubs or filling a corner of the garden.

Sometimes referred to as “Indian Celery” or “Indian Rhubarb,” Cow Parsnip was widely used by Natives as a vegetable. They ate the peeled stalks raw.

It is not a good idea to sample this plant without positive identification, as it closely resembles Water Hemlock, Poison Hemlock and Giant Cow Parsnip, all of which are extremely dangerous! (See Lacy White Flowers: The Good, the Bad and the Deadly at www.nwplants.com/information/white_flowers/white_comparison.html)

There is some interest in using various parts of Cow Parsnip for food. For instance, http://wildfoodgirl.com/2011/cow-parsnip-for-breakfast-dinner-dessert/ says, "My definition of a good day: Cow Parsnip for breakfast, dinner and dessert. She offers recipes and tips along that line.

Another source for recipes using this and other native plants is The Wild Vegetarian Cookbook by "Wildman" Steve Brill. Recipes in his book include Cow Parsnip Pilaf, Cow Parsnip Cheese Buns, Cream of Sorrel Soup and Greek Cattail Salad.

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of the University of Texas at Austin notes: "Early in each year, Native Americans peeled and ate the young sweet, aromatic leaf and flower stalks."

As with anything gathered in the wild, it is critical to make a correct identification prior to interacting with flora or fauna.

There are some other plants that may be mistaken for Cow Parsnip. See more info here: ..\..\information\white_flowers\white_comparison.html

Botanical drawing above right originally appeared in Flora Batava, Volume 7 (1830) by Jan Kops, Heran Christiaan van Hall. Permission has been granted for use by Kurt Stueber under GFDL

SEE NOTE BELOW--Be very careful when this plant touches your skin. I have not had a problem with it but many others have.

CAUTION: The 'juice' from Cow Parsnip leaves and stems may sensitize the skin so that it is very easily sunburned. Washing off the juice and wearing long sleeves for a few days apparently is the ticket after exposure.

The umbilliferae of Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) contain furano-coumarins which, when exposed to sunlight, cause significant photo-toxic reactions (photosensitivity). One of the more common skin reactions to Cow Parsnip, is the ‘weed eaters’ or ‘strimmers’ dermatitis. When string trimmers are used to clear long grass, components of weeds are usually mulched and scattered in all directions, often coating the legs and arms of the operator. The sap of the plants then gets on the skin, and, when exposed to sunlight, gives rise to a very characteristic rash which may be severe and persist for many months.

For more information, please see the Telemedicine website at www.telemedicine.org/botanica/bot5.htm

From Homepage December 17, 2010

Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) is a tall perennial native to the Pacific northwest. It has big clusters of white flowers that bring a light vanilla scent to the back of a perennial border, along a fence row or mingled here and there among sun loving shrubs.

When the bloom has gone by, the flower structure remains with large seeds at the tips of each stem, the whole plant turning brown as nature prepares the seeds for reproducing.

It was at this stage sometime in mid-November that I noticed the similarity between these seed heads and snowflakes. I envisioned the dried flower clusters made into a wreath of sparkling snow crystals. Given my life-long love affair with snow, it was a natural progression.

Unfortunately there was a county crew using a giant clipper machine to mow down the roadside plants. Racing ahead of the workers, I gathered a great pile of these dried beauties, filling up the back seat of my vehicle.

It was an ill-conceived way to harvest the materials because they knitted themselves into a mass of stickery villains. Well, nothing ventured... I simply clipped off the well shaped pieces and piled the rest on the compost heap. Later I realized there were a whole lot of seeds in that discarded heap so I gleaned them, put some into little paper envelopes made from magazine pages and gave to friends for stocking stuffers.

Utilizing styrofoam packing sheets stuck to cardboard bases, I affixed the flower skeletons randomly and painted the whole shebang white, finally finishing with a generous dusting of eco-friendly glitter and a white satin bow for hanging. I had a few leftover flower skeletons--just enough to fashion into a snowball by gluing their stems together. This piece I adorned with chandelier crystal drops hung from satin cords. It was spectacular!

I wish I had taken photos of the wreaths and snowball but, alas, I did not. If I ever make more I'll not overlook that detail.

Cow Parsnip has sharp little thorns along the stems. When dried, these assume a much more daunting aspect and gloves were immediately de rigor for working with them.

A word about this native perennial: The 'juice' from Cow Parsnip leaves and stems may sensitize the skin so that it is very easily sunburned. Washing off the juice and wearing long sleeves for a few days apparently is the ticket after exposure. See our Cow Parsnip page for more information about this issue and about the plant in general.

It's plain to see Jack Frost has visited this Cow Parsnip (Heracleum lanatum)

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