Wild Parsnip Burns and Blisters

Wild parsnip is among the rapidly increasing invasive weeds in many areas of Wisconsin. At this time of year we see wild parsnip growing up above grass and other plants in the roadsides and in other uncultivated areas. Wild parsnip is a yellow-green, tall plant that grows to around five feet tall.

Wild parsnip is of concern because humans develop a severe skin irritation from contact with its leaves. Plants have chemicals called furocoumarins that cause an interaction between plants and light that induces skin inflammation. Once the furocoumarins are absorbed by the skin, they are energized by UV light on both sunny and cloudy days. They then bind to DNA and cell membranes, destroying cells and skin.

Parsnip burns usually occur in streaks and elongated spots, reflecting where a damaged leaf or stem moved across the skin before exposure to sunlight. You can brush against wild parsnip plants and not be affected. Parsnip is only dangerous when the plant sap from broken leaves or stems gets on your skin.

One of the worst things to do is to use a weed eater to remove wild parsnip. This type of mechanical removal will splatter the plant sap all over the person and cause widespread burns and blisters. In cases of mild exposure to wild parsnip, affected areas turn red and feel sunburned.

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