It’s hard to stay inside during the summer—what with all the blue sky and bright sun begging you to get out in nature. But a Vermont woman’s run in with greenery may cause you to rethink just where you frolic.
While spontaneous patches of redness and blisters after brushing up against greenery from landscaping, hiking, a pit stop on the side of the road, or traversing an overgrown path to the beach are typically blamed on poison ivy, stinging nettles, insects or spiders, you can now add wild parsnip to the list.
Charlotte Murphy of Essex, Vermont, posted on Facebook about her brush in with the poisonous plant, revealing in a series of photos how badly burned her leg became after rubbing up against broken leaves of the plant and then spending the day in the sun.
Murphy said that, while nothing came of her skin the day of, a few days later she began to notice some painless, non-itchy bumps.
“Throughout the day, [the blisters] grew exponentially to a point where my leg was swollen and I couldn’t walk,” she wrote, noting that she went to urgent care to address the matter. But a week later, the reaction worsened to incredulous blisters that spread to her other leg, arms and fingers.
Wild parsnip contains chemicals in the juices of its green leaves, stems and fruits that can result in an intense, localized sunburn.
Doctors informed Murphy that her reaction was comparable to a second-degree chemical burn. She’s expected to make a full recovery.
“My hope in posting this unfortunate news is to create greater awareness for what wild parsnip is … and the terrible things the oil from its stem, leaves and blooms can do to the skin (I’m not saying everyone will have the reaction I did) and to encourage people to spread the news.”
The chemicals in wild parsnip responsible for the adverse reaction are called psoralens. They cause what dermatologists refer to as “phyto-photo-dermatitis,” which translates to an inflammation of the skin caused by a plant intensified by the presence of sunlight.
The chemicals, when absorbed by skin, are energized by ultraviolet light (occurring on both sunny and cloudy days). This causes them to bind with nuclear DNA and cell membranes—a process that adversely reacts to cells and skin tissue, resulting in damage as severe as Murphy experienced.
Psoralens may merely be the plant’s defense mechanism, however.
Your best bet is to identify the plant, which can grow up to 5 ft. tall and has hollow, grooved stems that are hairless, leaves resembling large celery leaves, and delicate yellow-green flowers with flat tops. You should also know where they’re most common, including along the side of the road, in fields and in pastures.