Hello my dear friends. This is My very first Blog post, and I have decided that I should rather like to dedicate it to talking about one of the best tasting of all of the spring "forageables": Wild Parsnip. First things first, lets clear up one very annoying thing I hear far too often. People think that wild parsnip is some unruly plant secretly working for an evil organization seeking to cause you bodily harm.
WILD PARSNIP IS THE EXACT SAME SPECIES AS THE GARDEN PARSNIP.
Read that one more time.
Yes, fellow plants enthusiasts, both the wild and the domesticated parsnip are Pastinaca sativa when botanists and wannabe botanists talk about them. I'm generally not super huge on the use of scientific names for plants, but alas I can save that rant for another post.
Wild parsnip is exactly as it sounds it is. It is a parsnip that was planted by nature itself not by a guy with a straw hat and a commercial seeder. And this is where my love of the wild one comes to life. At one point in my life I actually grew parsnips in my garden. I cleared the area, tilled it up, bought a packet of seeds, planted the seeds, weeded the garden, watered the garden, and in the fall I harvested my parsnips that I had carefully tended for months on end. Fast forward a few years and I am walking through a field and I am casually informed that there are wild parsnips growing everywhere in this field. I admit at first I was not very excited because the wild carrot or Queen Annes Lace is so utterly disappointing that I figured the parsnip would be the same.
Boy was I wrong! Wild parsnips are nothing like their cousin plants wild carrots. These babies are regularly the size of a big store-bought carrot, and occasionally they can reach the monstrous size you commonly see grown by farmers. One major difference I think you'll notice is that the wild parsnip had nobody weeding around it, had nobody fertilizing it(okay so maybe deer and rabbit poop), had nobody watering it, and yet it still grows to a very decent size. And this is why I never grow parsnips in my garden any longer. It is entirely possible to go out to a good parsnip patch and dig up a five gallon bucket full to the top in an hour or two depending on how wet or dry the soil is. My personal approach is to spend three minutes digging up what I will eat for the next couple of days. Think about that.
All around us there are these "invaders" that are not only edible, but highly nutritious, and yet everyone seems to only ever focus on the fact that they are not native to this continent as of five hundred years ago. I got news for you, these parsnips are not going away. Dare I even say that they have acclimated to this continent and might even be behaving like a native(I can hear the gasps now)! Its true though, Parsnip patches do not spread and take over everything like people have been led to believe. In fact all of my harvest spots have remained constant for five years now, and I would even argue that other plants are crowding them out.
And here these beautiful plants are just waiting to be eaten. And yet we prefer to buy the ones from the grocery store that a farmer grew using fertilizers and tons of water. Conservation groups have gotten all worked up about plants not on the "here before Columbus" list and thus declared a holy war on them. Most of the time they use toxic herbicides that soak into the very ground they are purporting to protect, if we are lucky they only pull them out. Yet these parsnips remain, no matter how much they fight them. I say if you really want to make a dent in the population then maybe consider letting people know that they are edible and free. Sometimes I think this society prefers doing things the hard, less intelligent way.
Alas I must make mention of the parsnip burn(cue the scary music now). Parsnip, both the wild AND the garden varieties, can potentially cause a reaction on your skin that can be described as extremely unpleasant. I have never had it happen to me so I would not know how to really describe it. In fact I don't think I have ever met anyone that both harvests parsnips and has gotten the rash. To get the rash it goes something like this: you must first break the green leafy part of the plant, then get the juice onto your sweaty skin, then expose that to sunlight which will cause "phytophotodermatitis". It is this rash that is the rallying cry of the Native Plant Avengers seeking to eradicate this "evil" plant. Nevermind the fact that we are putting human morals onto plants that are in no way using our same moral code. Some people literally go so far as to call the plant poisonous, as in this video right here: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/poisonous-plants-like-wild-parsnip-could-spoil-your-summer/
Wild parsnip is not poisonous. It is not your enemy. It is a plant doing what all life does; living. If I could have any influence on the debate I would say, go and look for yourself, go and taste for yourself. Don't just let the ranting of some people that are against it persuade you, don't let me persuade you either! Be a folk scientist and discover how wonderful and giving this plant is.