Gateway Gazette

Cow Parsnip

The cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) is the only plant species of Heracleum that is native to North America. Heracleum refers to the ancient Greek mythological hero Hercules, and was likely named due to the relatively large size of plants in this genus (the cow parsnip can grow up to two meters tall). Due to the relatively large amount of biomass produced by cow parsnip, it is considered to be a valuable pasture plant for cattle, sheep, and goats. Cow parsnip is also known to be important component in the diets of various wild animals, especially grizzly bears and black bears. This plant belongs to Apiaceae, the carrot family.

Despite the poisonous properties of the cow parsnip, young stalks and stems were peeled and eaten by indigenous peoples. The Blackfoot referred to the plant as po-kint-somo, and designated two stalk types; Napim (he) and Skim (she). Both stalk types were peeled while the Skim were also split, then roasted over hot coals before consumption. Cow parsnip root would be crushed and boiled to treat bruising and swelling, and also to treat arthritis and rheumatism, and stuffed into cavities to treat tooth ache. Dried plant stems were used as drinking straws, and were even made into flutes for children. Umbels from cow parsnip can be rubbed on the body for use as a natural fly and mosquito repellant. The plant was also utilized in traditional ceremonies; a single stalk would be placed on the altar during a Sun-Dance ceremony, which was performed annually by Plains Aboriginals to honour the sun.

Cow parsnip plants can be found in certain sections of Tiger Lily Loop and The Narrows trail within Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park.

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