Wild Parsnip – Pastinaca Sativa: Edible & Medicinal Uses of the Sweetest Aggressive Wild Plant

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There may not be a traditional word for wild parsnip because this plant is an invasive settler plant. Edible and medicinal carrot/parsley family plants are notorious on the internet. Their relation giant hogweed is especially villainized.

Wild Parsnip – Pastinaca Sativa
Wild Parsnip – Pastinaca Sativa

My library of herbal books tends to focus on cow parsnip, and even then, these parsnip plants get overlooked often due to their resemblance to water and poison hemlocks. Add into that the photodermatitis fear mongering that is rampant on social media and you rarely hear about their uses. The surprise may be that pastinaca sativa is actually your grocery store/vegetable garden variety, escaped into the wild. When Haliburton Flora was compiled it was listed as rare here, but you’ll see it in many ditches and fields now along with its many close relations. It’s officially an invasive species here too.

Edible Uses of Wild Parsnip

This plant may out compete native plants, decreasing biodiversity, similar to burdock. There’s no shame in mass removing these sorts of plants for their edible taproots. You’ll need protective clothing and it’s recommended you do your gathering on a day that isn’t hot and sunny just to be safe. And don’t eat the ones along the roadside, between the pollution and the possibility the county has sprayed them with cancer causing chemicals, yuck, and there’s also the poor roadside soil – the roots will be rough and stunted.

You want a first year root. The stem on first year plants will be fairly thin, and in the second year they are thicker with a ridge. In Haliburton, as I publish this, second year parsnip plants have bloomed and some are going to seed now. I can see first year plants in the vicinity of the second year plants in my yard. Same as if you grow them directly in your garden, harvest after the first autumn frost. But you can wait until closer to winter to harvest them. You could even dig them out when the soil thaws in the spring. You can skip all this wild work, of course, and find it at your local grocery store!

Wild Parsnip
Wild Parsnip, first year, almost ready for harvest

Parsnip roots can be used the same as carrot, raw or cooked, and are especially wonderful roasted. There’s even a parsnip wine. They are a sugary root, the core the sweetest especially after a frost. Easily, a sweet-tooth’s favorite vegetable.

For full disclosure – parsnip root contains three photoactive psoralens that aren’t destroyed by cooking. But so far I’ve only heard one group discourage eating it due to this. I suspect it is a greater concern if in its second year.

High in potassium.

Medicinal Uses of Wild Parsnip

Wild Parsnip is primarily said to support these body systems:

  • Digestive

Medicinal tags include Anti-inflammatory. See Medicinal tag key for more information.

Common usage includes as a typical vegetable with antioxidants that may have anticancer and anti-inflammatory properties and as a high source of fiber. Eating your veggies may be the best thing you can do for your overall health.

Alternative Uses of Parsnip

Parsnip can be used to make a creamy yellow dye. Here’s a fun article on making dyes from garden plants including purple dye from a purple carrot!

Growing Pastinaca Sativa

Like other root vegetables parsnips thrive in sandy and loamy soil, as cleared of stones as you can make it. Seeds can be planted in early spring as soon as the ground can be worked. Thin them and keep them weed free and you should have great results for your vegetable gardens parsnips.

I’ve found the seeds are fussier than most of my other seeds and recommend testing the seeds before you plant them. I’ve bought bad, likely too old, packets from stores more than once! I’ve gotten tons of seeds from my own plants. But make sure you’re committed to gathering all of these seeds if you let any grow through their second year.

Unfortunately, wild parsnip is aggressively invasive in Ontario. Entire roadsides and roadside hills have native plants being crowded out by parsnip. It’s spreading along our trails too. When Haliburton Flora was compiled decades ago, it was only in one spot along the IB&O. It has gone from rare to aggressively common. Here are a couple resources if you’re willing to take on remedying an area:




The sap in the leaves and stems is toxic and can cause photo sensitivity and skin irritation that is usually mild. Here is a write up on how this occurs, the symptoms and treatments.

And the Usual Cautions:

1) Most medicinal herbs, if edible, are meant to be eaten in moderation, even sparingly. Some require extra preparation. Tannins are toxic if consumed in excess.

2) People can be allergic or sensitive to nearly any plant; try new herbs one at a time at your own risk. For instance, saponins commonly cause stomach upset.

3) For medicinal use, I must recommend receiving a diagnosis and working with a reputed health care provider. I generally do not post specific treatments and dosages because I think that is best between you and your health care provider, and ideally monitored.

4) Anyone pregnant, nursing, or taking prescription drugs should talk to a health care professional before adding new food items to their diet.

5) Many plants have look-a-likes, and sometimes they are poisonous.

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