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The Hogweed---hogging This Herb for Free Food.

Updated on August 9, 2015

Notes from a Lancashire Country Man.

The hogweed, Heracleum sphondyllium, is a common grassland plant, and because of its size it cannot fail to go unnoticed. It may be encountered in other localities such as wasteland and woodland clearings. It must not be mistaken for its close relative the alien gianthogweed, Heracleum mantegazzianum, which is classed as an alien and dangerous. The sap of mature hogweeds {more so the giant hogweed} when contact is made with the skin can cause painful blisters especially if there is added contact of the sun.

I remember as a boy {long before the computers and electronic games became popular, or affordable} I used the hollow stems as a pea shooter or blow pipe. The common hogweed is native to our shores while the giant hogweed was introduced by the Victorians as an ornamental plant for large gardens. As with many other species it escaped over the garden wall and ad become established in many parts of the country. Giant hogweed can attain a height of twice the size of a full grown man sporting thick hollow stems covered with rough dense hairs, as are the large divided leaves. The umbels {flower heads} are as large as dinner plate making it an awesome plant to observe as it towers above surrounding vegetation.

The common hog weed is capable of attaining the height of six feet or more and the umbels are smaller. {see below}. The plants common name derives from two sources. It was once collected as a fodder for pigs. The second source alludes to the flowers scent. Not all flowers have sweet , attractive scents,like the rose for instance, to attract pollinating insects. Some have evolved more unusual strategies. The flowers of hogweed give off the smell of pigs, not that noticeable to man, but to flies it is heavenly, and flies are the main pollinators of hogweed.

Top. Young foliage of common Hogweed. Below Young foliage of the Giant Hogweed

young folisge of the common hogweed.Photograph by D,A,L,
young folisge of the common hogweed.Photograph by D,A,L,
Young foliage of the giant hogweed is much more divided. photograph by D.A.L.
Young foliage of the giant hogweed is much more divided. photograph by D.A.L.

Basic Biology of the Common Hogweed.

The leaves appear early in spring small at first broadening out in to the familiar coarsely lobed leaves. The stems are thick and erect , hollow, hairy attaining the height of six feet or more.{ some specimens may be much smaller depending on growing conditions} Where the leaf stems meet the stem they have the characteristic sheath common within the family.

The flowers are in large umbels {think umbrella} with 20 spokes or rays. Each flower head being 10-20cm wide. The umbel is flat rather than domed. The flowers are of a grey white colour. The outer flowers of the umbel are larger than those in the centre. The fruits {seed vessel} are flattened which helps them to be carried by the wind. The plant produces copious amounts of seed.

They tend top flower before the similar looking wild angelica another member of the family Apiaceae. {formerly the Umbellifreae}. However, sometimes the flowering period overlaps and where they grow together can cause confusion. Closer observation will reveal that the umbels of Angelica are more domed shaped and the flowers are often tinged with a pinkish hue. The foliage of Angelica is much more open, and neatly divided, with neat leaf segments, the whole being of a triangular outline. Both species have the characteristic sheaths where the leaf stalk meets the stem.

Hogweed in bloom

Common hogweed in full bloom photograph courtesy of Rasbak
Common hogweed in full bloom photograph courtesy of Rasbak

Medicinal and Culinary Uses of Common Hogweed.

Common Hogweed was once employed in medicine. The seeds boiled in oil was recommended for running sores and shingles. And Culpeper recommended the decoction of the seeds to be applied to running ears. However, the plant has long fell out of favour where medicine is concerned.

It still has culinary to country people who collect the young shoots early in the season. they are then bundles together about nine tender stems, about 15 cm long which may then be boiled and eaten. The shoots have a high vitamin C content. salted boiling water is recommended with a cooking time of about 15-20 minutes, they are then drained and served with butter. They make an ideal accompaniment to meat dishes.

Warning????-this family contains many poisonous species and correct identification is essential. Unless you are certain of the plants identity do not eat the plant. Many herb and health food stores have the ingredients of this family, many of which are beneficial to human health, ready prepared for use.

Heracleum the plants genus name derives fro the Greek mythological Hercules , who was siad to have used the plant in medicine.

Young shoots

These young shoots are at the ideal stage for culinary purposes. Photograph by D.A.L.
These young shoots are at the ideal stage for culinary purposes. Photograph by D.A.L.

Giant Hogweed

The giant hogweed is alien and dangerous. Photograph courtesy of Gerard M.
The giant hogweed is alien and dangerous. Photograph courtesy of Gerard M.
This illustration shows that the similar angelica has mush more divided floiage. Courtesy of Kurt Stueber.
This illustration shows that the similar angelica has mush more divided floiage. Courtesy of Kurt Stueber.

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    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 6 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Someonewhoknows, Hi, I must confess I have not heard the term. But it may well be related. This family of plants has many similar looking relations. To add to the confusion different species are known by the same common names in different places in the world that is why the Latin name is so important to identifying the correct plant.Best wishes to you.

    • someonewhoknows profile image

      someonewhoknows 6 years ago from south and west of canada,north of ohio

      I just heard about this weed yesterday and thought I'd look it up today.Is,this where they got the term "HOG WILD"?

    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 7 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Hi, PeggyW thank you for your appreciated comments. I spend much of my time roaming the countryside and taking photographs is a pleasurable part of that time. Best wishes to you.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 7 years ago from Houston, Texas

      Always a joy reading your hubs. This was informative about the hogweed. Had no idea some were edible and others, poisonous. You must have so much fun roaming the countryside taking these photos! Rating this useful.

    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Darlene, thanks again for your kind comments and for taking the time to read. You are always welcome here my friend.

    • Darlene Sabella profile image

      Darlene Sabella 8 years ago from Hello, my name is Toast and Jam, I live in the forest with my dog named Sam ...

      Again I was fooled and came upon another of DAL and a lost hub, I blame my mind, but with not intent, I must be a hog for hiding your hubs. Thank you again and again, for sharing your natures love with us today, or yesterday. Thumbs up

    • D.A.L. profile image
      Author

      Dave 8 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      Windy, thank you for reading,Unfortunately it is the Giant hogweed which grabs the headlines in many places.

      Carol, thank you for reading always nice to hear from you.

    • reddog1027 profile image

      reddog1027 8 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      As always, D.A.L. a very informative hub. Like England, the US is now plaques with the Giant Hogweed. Glad to know that it has a more benign but beautiful cousin.

    • VAMPGYRL420 profile image

      Windy Grace Mason 8 years ago from The Eastern Shore of Virginia, Maryland and Delaware, U.S.A.

      Beautiful Hub! I have never seen this plant in this area.

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