Wild parsnip, Pastinaca sativa
Did you know that wild parsnip is a common sight along roads and ditches in Finland? It resembles wild chervil (also called cow parsley), except that its flowers are yellowish green. The root of wild parsnip is good to eat, though it is thinner and less straight than the cultivated variety of parsnip sold in shops.
Wild parsnip can be used in the same ways as other root vegetables. Wild parsnip roots have a sweetish taste.
Something to try
Roasted wild parsnips
Dig up the rootstalks (the fleshy root) and clean and slice them. Spread them out on a baking sheet and drizzle cooking oil over them, and some honey if you wish. Season the root vegetables with wild thyme (also called Breckland thyme) or rosemary, and oven-roast them until soft.
Gathering the plants
The rootstalks of wild parsley are harvested in the autumn, like carrots. The roots of wild parsnip that have started to flower should not be collected, as by that time they have become too hard and tough to eat. When collecting wild parsnip, be sure to wear a long-sleeved shirt, since in sunny weather the leaves produce a liquid containing furanocoumarins (see below), which react with sunlight and can irritate the skin.
Other interesting facts
All varieties of parsnip contain chemical compounds called furanocoumarins (also called furocoumarins). These are believed to be part of the plant’s defence mechanisms against pests, dehydration, and mechanical damage. Furanocoumarins react with the ultraviolet (UV) radiation in sunlight to produce a liquid compound that can cause burns on the skin. Remember to wear protective clothes when collecting parsnips.