Wild Parsnips are an alien invasive species, carried to America from Europe and Asia and spreading across much of the northern United States and parts of Canada. While the roots of wild parsnips are edible, the green stems, and leaves contain a chemical called psoralens which cause phyto-photo-dermatitis. When the plant’s juices come in contact with the skin, and are exposed to ultraviolet light, it results in severe burns, scaled areas on the skin, blisters and long-term discoloration.
If you have come in contact with wild parsnip get out of the sun and wash the affected skin immediately 1. Flush the skin with large amounts of water without rubbing. Then use soap on the skin to remove residue. Do not rub with a washcloth, which could force the burning chemicals deeper into the skin. Use cold water to wash away the chemical residue, both humidity and warmth will open the pores of the skin and spread absorption. Similarly, remaining outside in the humidity and sweating will increase absorption.
When you have parsnip induced dermatitis, the first line of treatment is to relieve the physical discomfort. Cover the affected skin with a cool damp cloth. Lay the cloth over the affected area, but avoid rubbing and scrubbing motions which might further irritate the skin. In some cases, blisters will form. Keep the area covered to prevent blister rupture for as long as possible. This will protect the injured area while new skin is forming and seal out infection.
Treat open sores to prevent infection. Clean the sores with soap and cool water. Apply an antibiotic ointment with painkiller and a sterile bandage to keep contaminants out. Change bandages twice a day or as needed to keep the area clean and dry.
In cases where blisters get large enough to pop and weep rapidly after exposure, adding Domeboro powder to ice compresses can dry out the blisters and give relief. Doctors can also give extremely burnt patients cortisone steroid shots to ease itching and burning.
If left untreated, the skin discoloration, or hyperpigmentation caused by the parsnip exposure can last for up to two years. There are a number of treatments for hyperpigmentation including hydroquinone, hydroxy acids, pulsed light treatments, laser resurfacing and microdermabrasion. These treatments are expensive and do not always completely restore normal coloration to the skin. Discuss treatment options with a medical professional.
- “The Herald Journal”; Wild Parsnip Invades Wright County; Lynda Jensen; 2007
- Wisconsin Natural Resources: Burned By Wild Parsnip
- “Cornwall Free News”; Earth Matters – Wild Parsnip; Jacqueline Milner; 2010