The Botanical Dermatology Database: How to Find Out About Plant-Caused Skin Problems

by Kathy Purdy on July 14, 2005 · 5 comments

in Pests, Plagues, and Varmints, Plant info, Recommended Links

If you have a rash or other skin problem that you think might be plant related, trying using the search engine at the Botanical Dermatology Database. I checked out my family’s old enemy Pastinaca sativa (aka wild parsnip), and learned a few things. First of all, wild parsnip and cultivated parsnip are the same thing, and you can get the blisters and subsequent skin pigmentation from either. Secondly, if your skin is wet (and whose isn’t on a hot summer day?) the reaction is more likely. Third, “the active spectral band for evoking phytophotodermatitis from the plant was found to be 320-360nm.” Okay, so that last part isn’t too helpful, but the other two things were good to know. Eating parsnips poses no problem, but if you like them enough to grow them, wear long sleeves and gloves when you harvest them.


Kathy Purdy is a colchicum evangelist, converting unsuspecting gardeners into colchicophiles. She would be delighted to speak to your group about colchicums or other gardening topics. Kathy's been writing since 4th grade, gardening since high school, and blogging since 2002.

I am very fond of the Spring-flowering colchicums, but unfortunately slugs are also, and those greedy gastropods and I have a race for who can see the flower-buds first. If I win I go out after dark with an acetylene lamp and a hatpin and spear the little army of slugs making for a tea party at the sign of the Colchicum.
E.A. Bowles My Garden in Spring 1914
Kathy Purdy July 24, 2005 at 7:56 pm

Did you see this link in my earlier post about the wild parsnip? It does give some advice about treatment. My sons who have most been afflicted didn’t find the blisters to be painful, but at a certain stage they get itchy. Don’t scratch them, let them disappear by themselves. If they do seem to be painful, I would get them checked out by a doctor, but bring printouts from the dermatology database and the link referenced above, because most doctors don’t know about it. But there’s always the outside chance the blisters got infected.

Marianne Goodfellow July 24, 2005 at 7:38 pm

We have a parsnip patch that seeded itself from last year. We’ve been trying to clean it up, and I have developed the rash you’ve talked about, which has now become small blisters.I’d appreciate any advice you have about treatment.

Marianne Goodfellow
South Esk, NB,

Rundy July 15, 2005 at 8:44 am

As best as can be determined it would “seem” you are correct that everyone will have the reaction. However, in my reading I have come across stories where a very rare few people do not seem to have the reaction. Since it is a chemical reaction that invovles the sunlight I don’t really understand how this can be, but I would be careful in saying everyone since one of this rare people could pipe up and say it didn’t happen to them.

Kathy Purdy July 14, 2005 at 5:36 pm

I hope I was clear it is not the root, but the juice from the leaves and stem that cause the problem, and that the juice on your skin has to be exposed to sunlight. My understanding is that this is a reaction that everyone will have under the right conditions.

Judith Miller July 14, 2005 at 2:47 pm

Funny how reactions vary; I have ‘weenie’ skin, very tender and get rashes from hay mold and some Eupatoriums, but parsnips, no prob. Though I find the tast despicable. . .
And funny too how folks often think a rash or an upset stomach means an allergy. Some things are just irritants (never never get celery juice in your eye, for example.).
Thanks for the link.

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