Parsnip is regarded as an invasive species, a 'noxious weed'. We can see it lining the roads and inhabiting wasted spaces all around our area. Its dominance is a result of disregard for indigenous ecology that comes with monoculture. Whether we like it or not, parsnip is here to stay. We should, willingly or dutifully, find it delicious and eat it: just one way to assert ourselves as the cornerstone of environmental balance.
All parts of this plant are edible but all above ground parts contain furanocoumarins, a class of organic chemical compounds contained in the sap which, if you come in contact with it, cause your skin to become photosensitive. If sap from the leaves, stems, flowers or seeds gets on your skin and then is exposed to direct sunlight and sweat, you are likely to develop a blistering burn. Fear not, ingesting the areal parts of the plants will not cause photosensitivity. Be sure to take care when handling by avoiding sunlight and washing your hands after handling the plant.
The leaves emerge soon after the snow melts in the early spring. They have an incredible almost coconut-like aroma and its best to chiffonade them and use as an herb.
The flowers can be used just like the flowers of fennel, dill and cilantro, as decoration with a pungent and sweet carrot flavor.
In the height of summer when the seeds are developing they can be used as a flavoring. The spice has aromas of coconut, cardamom, citrus peel, parsnip, fennel and a degree of heat like black pepper.
Once the flowering plants have died back, we are on the look our for the first year plants which begin to shoot up new leaves in the early autumn. It is these plants that are best to harvest for the root. Not only is the ground soft at this time of year, but the roots of the first year plants are still tender. The wild parsnip roots are sweet and full of the aromas of a cultivated parsnip.