Common Name: Hogweed, Cow Parsnip
Scientific Name: Heracleum Sphondylium
The leaves of the Hogweed are green matt and deeply lobed and are covered in lots of tiny hairs. The stems are green and can be quite thick. They have a reddish, purple tinge, and are hollow and covered in tiny hairs. When the flower buds appear, they are wrapped up in a sheath like cover that opens to look a little like broccoli before turning into the large white, sometimes with a pinkish tinge umbel shaped flower head. This is made up of lots of smaller flowers. These are followed by small flat seeds. They take the place of the flowers and grow in small bunches. The roots have a parsnip like appearance.
You will find the Hogweed plant along most roadsides and paths, woodland edges and waste ground. It is very common.
This is a delicious plant that has a distinctive taste and is one of my favorite wild edibles. I would only eat the youngest leaves, just before they open and the stem shoots when they are nice and young. These are delicious cooked in butter like asparagus.
The flower buds are lovely too, cooked like broccoli with cheese, salt and pepper. The seeds when young and small and taste like coriander and as the seeds mature, the smell and taste changes to more like cardamom spice. The roots can be boiled well and eaten like parsnips.
Caution is advised as Hogweed has a bigger brother, – Heracleum Mantegazzianum- Giant Hogweed and this is a VERY dangerous plant. It is on Defra’s hitlist. So please leave well alone! The photo toxic sap, when it comes into contact with skin can cause severe burns when exposed to the sun. The Giant Hogweed can grow up to 5 to 6 meters tall and has purple blotches on the stems. The leaves are much shinier, serrated and there are hairs on the leaf junctions and less on the stems. Whereas the Hogweed only grows to 2 meters. Please note that Hogweed does share the same toxic sap but nowhere near as aggressive as the Giant Hogweed. If you have very sensitive skin, it is always best to wear gloves as a precaution.
Hogweed is a native plant if cutback it keeps producing fresh tender stems.