Poison Parsnip

Friends, I interrupt this blogging hiatus to share a very important public service announcement.
BEWARE OF POISON PARSNIP!

Over the weekend, during a leisurely evening walk, I absent-mindedly picked a bouquet of a yellow field flower that was vaguely familiar.


"How pretty!" I thought to myself. "What are these called again?" I wondered aloud.

As I think back on the moment, it all went down in slow-mo.

"POOOOOOOYZZZZZON PAAAAAARSNIIIIIIIIP!" my husband bellowed, as I dropped the flowers in horror. How could I forget?

If I were a superhero, cursed with an ironic, but potentially career-ending vulnerability, this might have been the end of the line for me: a gardening crusader, brought to her knees by seemingly innocent, irresistible wild flowers. Poison parsnip could be my kryptonite. I've had incidental exposure to the plant before and experienced blisters and subsequent scarring. In this case, I'd been exposed massively.

What next ensued was a frantic rush to mitigate the impact, which involved a mostly fruitless Google search for:
"poison parsnip exposure"
"what to do if you pick poison parsnip"
"stopping poison parsnip blisters before they start"
"omg I am such an idiot there goes my summer what do I do now?" AND "poison parsnip"

Thirty-six hours later, I am still blister free, thanks to some smart advice from a friend who also happens to be a botanist. Here's what worked for me:
(I am not medically trained - use your own judgement and seek expert medical advice!)

What to do if you are exposed to poison parsnip
1) Wash exposed areas immediately. Don't waste time. Get indoors, and wash thoroughly.

2) Get out of the sun. Poison parsnip causes phytophotodermatitis, a big word for "a condition wherein your skin's chemistry is temporarily altered, due to exposure to certain plants, rendering it more vulnerable to UV rays." The plant itself does not cause the blisters, but instead makes you more susceptible to the sun. The burns and blisters that accompany poison parsnip exposure are actually acute sunburn on the compromised skin that came in contact with the plant.

3) Stay out of the sun. Channel your inner vampire, and stay out of the sun for at least 24 hours. Even minimal sun exposure can cause serious harm. Draw the curtains, cover all impacted areas (I wore gloves), and stay inside. Read a book, watch a movie, but whatever you do, avoid the sun, especially in cases of extreme exposure.

4) Consult a doctor. If you begin to react, call your doctor.

 5) Moisturize. If you are lucky enough to avoid blisters or a rash, be sure to moisturize. Your skin will be stiff and dry in the impacted areas.

6) Treat the burns. If you do experience burns and blisters, cold compresses and aloe can help. Consult your doctor.

By following the steps above, I came through this situation blister-free. Summer is saved, and I can get back to the business of tending to the kinder, gentler flowers in my garden.

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