Written by Gillian Duggan
Over the past weeks, what with lockdown and the good weather, I’ve noticed an increase in the number of people on my normally quiet, local routes which is really fantastic to see.
Is stopping for a socially distant hello to a now familiar face and their dog the new ‘meet for a chat’?
Yesterday, while I looked over the hill to the distant bay, I noticed a family in the field below realising they were in the company of a herd of heifers! For some reason, they took off towards the nearest gap which contained a patch of common hogweed and a hedge of gorse and they were all in shorts!
I found myself shouting —– NOOOOOO!
I wondered how aware are we of all the unpleasant and potentially dangerous plants growing in our midst.
Nettles that are not the only nasty!
I will never forget a mystery skin rash, the cause, after much medical attention, being eventually traced to brushing against the hogweed on a shortcut to the shops!
My advice is to steer clear of all the Umbellifers unless you are 100% sure of your identification.
Umbellifers are these kind of plants –
You see them in verges, hedgerows and woodland edges, these members of the Carrot family are difficult to identify and separate from the real thing and more than one are poisonous.
Some are so common in our hedgerows that we ignore them yet their lookalike cousin may be the most powerful poison in the northern hemisphere eg Cow Parsley and Hemlock.
Spot the difference?
The first plant is Hemlock which is deadly poisonous. The second is seen along our verges and is so like hemlock that foragers leave it alone. The third and fourth are very nice additions to salads and have medicinal uses but again, they are so similar to Hemlock they are largely ignored in the wild.
Another example, Common Hogweed (as mentioned above is a Sap nasty) can easily be mistaken for Giant Hogweed when young.
Common Hogweed is a delicious spring vegetable – boiled (remove the nasty) for 10 mins, sauté in butter for 10 mins, grate over some parmesan, season and you have a vegetable on par with asparagus with more nutrients than spinach. It grows everywhere but cut it with gloves because the sap may cause an allergic reaction on your skin and only when you are absolutely sure you are correct in your plant identification. But run through it at your own risk, take my word!
The cousin, Giant Hogweed, is a dangerous non-native, invasive species whose sap can cause life altering injuries. They can both look the same at certain times of the year unless you are a trained botanist. My tour guide tutor identified Giant Hogweed in the back lanes of the Dublin Mountains last summer.
Here is the result of running through Giant Hogweed.
This poor child’s hands will swell up and blister like this every time she exposes her hands to the sun for the foreseeable future.
So maybe just steer clear of the Umbellifers if wearing shorts!
In the meantime, stay safe and enjoy the good weather,