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Hogweed

Edible Edible Autumn Autumn Spring Spring Summer Summer

One of our favourite wild foods with three edible crops but because of the phototoxicity of Giant Hogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, people can be wary of this plant.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Hogweed, Cow Parsnip
Scientific Name Heracleum sphondylium
Season Start Mar
Season End Nov
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.

Leaves

Starting tightly curled and pale green opening out into large dark green roughly lobed, matt leaves covered in tiny hairs.

Flowers

A sheathed bud at the base of a leaf opens out into a large white umbel made up of many tiny flowers. (Umbel being shaped like an umbrella).

Flower Buds

These are the unopened flowers at their best broccoli like stage.

Seeds

Small flat green discs with red markings growing in clusters on the umbels. The seeds are still edible when mature and brown.

Stem

Green to dark red/brown/purple. Fleshy, thick, hollow and covered in small hairs.

Roots

Sometimes thick and a bit parsnip like but more often thin, small and very branched.

Habitat

Wood edges, beside paths, roadside verges and many other environments.

Possible Confusion

Giant Hogweed! This is a very dangerous plant with phototoxic sap which will burn your skin extremely badly if exposed to the Sun. This is no idle warning, if you want to see how bad the burns can get a simple google search should do the trick.

Giant hogweed, pictured, has slightly shinier leaves, more hair in a ring around the stem where the leaf joints are, and more flower stems, and is much larger when mature. Giant hogweed gets to 4 to 5 metres tall, common hogweed is normally around 2 metres or less.

 

 

Taste

Cooked like spinach hogweed has a flavour of its own. One of the best tasting of the wild foods available in the UK.
The shoots are best blanched and cooked in butter, the leaves can be used when very young or as a flavouring for soups and stews, the flower buds can be used  like broccoli, the seeds are a direct replacement for cardamom and the roots can be used like parsnips but must be boiled well.

Frequency

Very common.

Collecting

Only the young leaves should be eaten before they open out fully. Gloves should be worn as a few people can find they get an allergic skin reaction when in regular contact with the sap rather like Giant Hogweed but nowhere near as severe.

Medicinal Uses

Hogweed oil was used as a sedative and expectorant.

COMMENTS

31 comments for Hogweed

  1. Robert narramore says:

    Hi think I have found some hog weed and wood sorely can I send a pic to double check

    1. Poppy Ives says:

      please do by email to [email protected]

  2. Hadass says:

    I suspect there’s a ton growing around us, but I know for a fact that there is also giant hogweed around. A bit afraid to just chop and it.

  3. Sarah Mills says:

    I have cow parsnip popped up my garden growing vigorously but just one plant. How can I get rid of it, I completely re landscaped the garden two years ago after building an extension and don’t know where this came from. I think I pulled it up earlier last year not recognising it as something I planted but don’t know how to get rid now, especially as I am allergy prone. Advice gratefully received.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      I am allergic to touching hogweed but not eating it luckily so I just wear a pair of rubber gloves when harvesting. If you pull up the plant with as much root as possible you should be rid of it but do this before it goes to seed.

  4. runcyclexcski says:

    would be nice to have more specific tips on how to tell sosnowski from common hogweed. Sure, there is no doubt when the evil type is 4 meters tall, but while young I wouldn’t tell them apart.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      The best way to tell the two apart is the upper surface of the leaves. Giant hogweed has a smooth, shiny surface with no hairs, common hogweed has a matt surface covered in a suede like covering of small hairs.

  5. Jim Edwards says:

    Hi there, I enjoyed your article on hogweed. I’ve got a big garden in Carmarthenshire with tons of it but I’m pretty sure I have both common and giant. Your article throws up a couple of questions for me as I’d really like to try eating some.

    I took a quick look just before dark tonight, so will need to go back in good light.

    If you approach giant hogweed with real caution would eating that also be possible, or is that a complete no-no. I’m thinking the seeds might be OK and possibly the florets but I specifically would like to try the young stems that you’ve likened to Asparagus. Trouble is some of the characteristics are the same so I’m not yet 100% sure I’ll take the plung!

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      I wouldn’t try to eat Giant Hogweed just because of the risks, I’m not sure if it would affect the mouth but if it did it could take up to seven years to heal. The best way to tell the difference at this time of year (July) is that giant hogweed would have a stem up to the diameter of a wine bottle and be up to 4+ meters tall with florets larger than dinner plates. Also the upper surface of the leaves of Giant Hogweed are shiny and hairless, the upper surface of the leaves of Common Hogweed have a matt texture as they have a suede like covering of small hairs.

    2. Alina says:

      the edible one has HAIRY STEMS AND LEAVES, the poisonous version has smooth stems with purple blotches/ spots all over, also the leaves shapes are extremely different. Best of luck! I foraged some cow parsnip this year, the stems and young shoots were delicious 😋 I went back yesterday and got some seeds and leaves, I’ll probably dry and grind them for seasoning

      1. Eric Biggane says:

        Hogweed is one of my favourites. Giant Hogweed does have hairy stems, especially around the leaf nodes but the upper surface of the leaves is hairless, smooth and shiny, unlike Common Hogweed with its suede like covering of tiny hairs. Giant Hogweed is quite obvious when found but if not seen before, I understand peoples concerns.

  6. Lucy says:

    I had one of these beautiful plants (Common Hogweed) growing in the garden last year – after I scattered seeds from a wild one. – I’m desperate for it to come back – is it perennial or annual?
    If perennial when can I expect the shoots to start emerging?

    Thank you so much!
    Lucy

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hogweed is biennial but should carry on growing in your garden by seed. I usually start seeing hogweed around the end of March beginning of April.

  7. Su says:

    Can common hogweed still cause photosensitivity in animals ? It’s bern a problem for me in the past but I think we have got rid of it now

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Some people, including me, react to contact with common hogweed so I imagine it could cause problems for some animals to.

  8. Sophie Ewell says:

    Hi is it only the flower buds and roots that are edible of the grown hogweed that is edible around July time or can you eat the shoots this time of year when the plant has grown?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      You can eat any shoots that come up at any time of year, hogweed quite often has a second flush in the Autumn as well.

  9. Howard Dare says:

    My neighbour brush cut common hogweed on a sunny day this year. He was working sleeveless and stopped when the skin lesions appeared. Weeks later he is still covered in red blotches where the lesions healed.

    Perhaps only go near this plant when there’s no sun.

    I have gone to work on the hundreds of plants I have because I fear for my grandkids. Now that I am aware it’s food I will use some of it in the ways you suggest.

    No doubt seeds could be collected for those desperate to have the plant growing in their gardens. Take care if you are plagued by feral children: you may find yourself in court if they come to harm.

  10. Anna says:

    Hi there,

    Are all parts of the giant hogweed not edible? What about the seeds when they are dry? I found some hogweed the other day but wasn’t sure as due to the heat and draught all the leaves were crippled.

    Any Tipps on how to distinguish apart from size at this point?

    Thanks

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      I’m not sure of the edibility of Giant Hogweed as I always just admire it from afar.
      Giant Hogweed will have large seed heads at the moment with up to 500 seeds on it, Common Hogweed will have about 200 otherwise I use the leaves for identification, Common Hogweed having a suede like cover of hairs on the upper surface of the leaves, Giant Hogweed has shiny, bald, upper surfaces. Size is a good indicator unless the plants have just come up in Spring.

  11. Rochelle says:

    Hi,
    Do the stems of common hogweed dry out, and can they be found amongst the new spring plants the following year?
    We have found what we think is common hogweed but were put off picking it in an area where we found some dry hollow stems (they were only about 2cm wide and all were under a meter long).

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hogweed stems can often be found still standing the next year. They sound like Common Hogweed, Giant Hogweed can also leave behind stems but these are as thick as wine bottle.

  12. Lynne says:

    hi,

    I ended up down an overgrown pathway the other day, which had what I first thought was giant hogweed, because the leaves were serrated. It was less than 2 metres tall. and not loads of flowers, the flower stems were separated and the leaves weren’t huge. the only leaf stem I saw was brown and bristled. could it have been giant hogweed?
    Thanks

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      It doesn’t sound like giant hogweed, common hogweed can top 2m. The best way to tell the two apart is by the upper surface of the leaf, common hogweed has a coating of fine, white, suede like hairs, giant hogweed does not have these and has shiny leaves. Without seeing the plants I can’t be sure which they are. You can send photos to [email protected] and we will ID the plant for you.

  13. Sophie Holmes says:

    Is there a particular colour that’s best when harvesting the seeds? I’ve picked some that are green but have seen some that are more brown in colour. Wondering whether I should have picked the more brown ones now…

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      It shouldn’t make too much difference but the dryer seeds are browner and more mature. There are plenty of seeds around at the moment so picking brown ones won’t be an issue.

  14. Riffit Khan says:

    When the hogweed gets to the flowering stage is it too late to forage?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Usually hogweed flowers don’t all appear at once so there should still be some unopened florets to forage. After the flowers, the cardamom like seeds can be used in curries and pilau rice or some people infuse vodka with the seeds.

  15. Peter says:

    Is it usual for it to have a very aromatic, almost perfumey taste? I sent some photos in, which were positively identified as hogweed, and I have read and read and read about identifying it. I just take everything very literally and am ultra-cautious. I’ve also picked from sites where I observed for the last couple of years, so noting giant growing there. I know it’s supposed to taste like cardamon, which is obviously quite aromatic, but I didn’t get cardamon. , The taste was unusual, but not unpleasant once I got used to it.

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hogweed has an aromatic/savoury taste and the unopened flower buds and young shoots are my favourite parts. They don’t taste like cardamon, that is the seeds which have a cardamon/coriander like taste. It is an easy plant to ID once you know it so if we IDed your photos as hogweed, that’s what there are but I understand your caution, it is good to be careful when identifying wild plants.
      I recommend cooking young shoots in a little water in a frying pan until the shoots have softened and the water evaporated, then fry the shoots slightly in butter, season and sprinkle with a few drops of lemon juice. I’m making my own mouth water thinking about hogweed as the young shoots should appear in the next couple of weeks.

      1. Peter says:

        Thanks Eric.

        I don’t eat dairy, but did exactly as you suggest, only substituting the butter for vegan alternative. And no lemon juice. It really is a different taste, and very nice once you get used to it. Luckily there are quite a few young shoots coming through down here already, and I can’t wait to try the unopened buds.

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