All I normally used to hear about Cow Parsnip is how much the sap will burn you to touch. When I found out it was edible, I was quite annoyed at hearing about a plant that was maligned as poisonous and nothing else. The sap on the stems can cause quite bad burning because it blocks your skins melatonin protection from UV light but precautions can be taken.
The leaves are compound and palmate. The leaf is made of three leaflets with a terminal leaflet bigger than the others. Their margin is serrated. The leaves are up to 25in (60cm) long. The ones found were about 12in (30cm) long. The terminal leaflets’ petiole (think stem) is longer than the other leaflet’s petioles.
You will typically find them in colonies.
Stems are ridged and very hairy.
They will have umbels typical of other members of the carrot family. Individual flowers are white with five petals. Each umbel has 15-30 rays per umbel. The umbel is up to 12 in (30 cm) diameter. The ones pictured were smaller than that.
(Instead of just counting flowers, count branches. The umbel will have 15-45 primary branches)
The top of the umbel could be rounded or flat.
Plants can grow up to 8.2 ft tall (2.5m). This ones pictured were around 4ft tall.
The plants are in the Carrot Family (Apiaceae) which has deadly plants so you should be absolutely certain of identification. There are poisonous plants in the carrot family that have similar umbel flowers. If you misidentify this plant, it could kill you.
Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) has very similar features with similar leaves, but the proportions of everything are much bigger. The stems are hairless and typically have reddish splotches. By the time blossoms are ready to gather, this plant could be towering over a human. They flower later. The stems are wider, the leaves are larger and they have sharper incisions in the leaf. The Umbel flowers have more branches and there are more flowers per umbel.
Cow Parsnips grow near river banks, riparian terraces, meadows, roadside ditches, and sub-alpine meadows. They also grow along beach side meadows as the ones I picked here.
Time of Year:
The blossoms will appear in the late spring in the Northeast. These were harvested on June 10th at the end of the gathering season of this plants since most of the flowers had bloomed already. I probably should have been there 4 or 5 days earlier, or I could have gathered a lot more blossoms.
Many more blossoms could have been gathered earlier in the week if I had come earlier so I will have to get to this spot sooner next year.
I went out harvesting the buds as can be seen on youtube.com/feralife
I put the unwashed flower blossoms in jars and refrigerated them. If soaked in water, and drained they should be put into breathable bags so they will keep longer.
I have been frying them in either butter or ghee and some sea salt. They have such great scent and taste that they pair well with some blandly cooked rice or pasta.