Wild parsnip (or common parsnip) is the wild ancestor of the parsnip that you see in the produce section at the grocery store. You've most likely seen it in the tall grass along roads and bicycle paths.
Where to Find It
Wild parsnip is a hardy plant that can survive in most conditions, so you’ll find it in lots of different environments. It grows in both shade and full sun; in dry and moist soil; and at the edge of roads, on slopes, and in areas that are left uncultivated and undeveloped with tall grasses and herbs.
Salt marshes, streams, beaches, lakes, marshlands, coniferous forests, deciduous forests, towns, hedges, roadsides, grasslands.
When to Find It
You can pick the leaves from April until October; the seeds in July and August. You can dig up the roots in fall. If the plant grows back after being cut, there will be young leaves available for picking until October.
Leaves: April, May, June, July, August, September, October.
How to Spot It
Wild parsnips have a grooved stem that can grow up to one and a half meters tall. The leaves are serrated, divided into four to six leaflets, and can resemble maple leaves in shape. They always grow in pairs, directly across from one another on the stem. The flowers are small, yellowish-green, and grow in umbels at the top of the plant. The root looks like a thin parsnip.
How to Pick It
Wild parsnip is in the same family as hogweed, and its juice can cause a rash if you get it on your skin and are then exposed to sunlight. It’s therefore a good idea to wear gloves when collecting wild parsnip and to be careful when working with it in the kitchen. Both the old and young leaves are suitable for picking; the seed head should be clipped off with scissors. Dig up the root, preferably of plants that haven't yet developed flowers and seeds. You'll need a garden shovel to get the entire root, and you should make sure that you've gotten permission to dig from whoever owns the land.
Seeds: July, August.
Roots: September, October, November.
On the palate
The leaves of wild parsnip have a spiced flavor like that of lovage or flat-leaf parsley. The root tastes like parsnip, as do the green seeds. The leaves are rough and have a firm texture. The seeds pop lightly in your mouth.
Wild parsnip has a spiced scent.
The leaves, roots, and seeds of wild parsnip can tolerate most cooking methods. The leaves are rough, so it's a good idea to chop them finely if you're going to incorporate them into a dish. They're good for flavoring stews with boiled vegetables or fried meat. Like parsnips, wild parsnip roots can be fried, baked, boiled, etc, but since they're generally small, you should cook them gently. You can lightly toast the seeds in a pan to bring out their aroma, but they can also be used raw as a topping or in cold dishes.
The roots can be cooked like you would parsnips. They can be paired with other root vegetables, herbs like rosemary, and venison. You can use wild parsnip leaves as an aromatic herb in savory dishes. Incorporate them into recipes where you’d otherwise use lovage or flat-leaf parsley. For example, try boiling new potatoes with a good sprig of wild parsnip and a clove of garlic. The leaves go particularly well with lamb, intensely- flavored salads, creamy soups, white fish, baked carrots, and most root vegetables.
Cover the wild parsnips with a moist cloth and store in a sealed bag or airtight container inside the crisper drawer of your refrigerator, where both the leaves and roots will stay fresh for up to a couple of weeks.
No equivalent substitutions.
Risk of misidentifying the plant
There is no risk of mistaking the plant for another dangerous or undesirable plant so long as you make sure that the plant has yellow flowers.