Heracleum lanatum

Common name: cow parsnip, pushki, indian celery

Scientific name: Heracleum lanatum (also known as H. sphondylium and H. maximum)

Plant family: Apiaceae

Description: Cow parsnip is a very large, hairy perennial, growing 1-3 meters tall. It has a singular hollow stem, covered in hairs, from a stout taproot or cluster of fleshy fibrous roots. Cow parsnip has strong pungent odor once the plant matures. Leaves are large (up to 40 cm across), and compound. Each leaf is divided into three large, coarsely toothed and palmately lobed segments. Cow Parsnip has numerous small white flowers in large, flat-topped, terminal umbrella-like clusters (compound umbels). The fruit is egg or heart shaped with one aromatic sunflower-like seed. Fruit is 7-12 mm long with broadly winged lateral ribs. [1]

Habitat and Range: Heracleum lanatum grows on stream banks, moist slopes and clearings, marshes, meadows, thickets, and roadsides. It is found in most American states except Hawaii and Gulf Coast states (Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina). It is found in all Canadian provinces except Nunavut. It thrives in elevations from sea level up to subalpine levels.[2]

Historical and Contemporary Uses: Virtually every group along the Pacific Northwest Coast ate this plant as a green vegetable. Before the flowers matured, young stalks and leaf stems were peeled and eaten raw or sometimes boiled. Native coastal populations called this plant ‘celery’ because the peeled young stems are mild and sweet, just like celery, despite the strong odor of the leaves and outer skin. Due to the furanocoumarins found in cow parsnip, several native groups considered this plant poisonous.[1]

Cow Parsnip is also used medicinally. The plant is ground into a poultice and applied to bruises and cuts to aid in the healing process. Also, an infusion of the flowers is applied to the body to help repel insects and mosquitos. The stalks are harvested and dried to make drinking straws for the elderly and flutes for young children. The roots can be used to make a yellow dye.[3]


[1] Pojar, Mackinnon. Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast. Lone Pine Publishing, 2004, Vancouver, B.C.

[2] USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service; PLANTS Profile for Heracleum lanatum (Cow Parsnip). http://plants.usda.gov/java/profile?symbol=HERAC

[3] Oregon State University; “Weed Management in Nursery Crops”; Profile for Cow Parsnip.http://oregonstate.edu/dept/nursery- weeds/weedspeciespage/cow_parsnip/Cow_ parsnip_Heracleum_lanatum_page.html

Photos from: http://whatdoino-steve.blogspot.com/2007/07/cow-parsnip-heracleum.html