Herbs & Plants

Heracleum sphondylium

Botanical Name: Heracleum sphondylium
Family: Apiaceae or Umbelliferae
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Apiales
Genus: Heracleum
Species: H. sphondylium

*Heracleum australe Hartm.
*Heracleum sphondylium sphondylium

Common Names: Hogweed, Eltrot, Common hogweed or Cow parsnip

Heracleum sphondylium is native to Europe, including Britain, south of latitude 61° to western N. Africa, west and northern Asia. It grows on moist grassland and ditches, by hedges and in woods.

Heracleum sphondylium is a biennial/perennial plant , growing to 1.8 m (6ft) . The hollow, ridged stem with bristly hairs arises from a large tap root. The leaves can reach 50 centimetres (20 in) of length. They are once or twice pinnate, hairy and serrated,:827 divided into 3–5 lobed segments.

Hogweed has 5-petalled pinkish or white flowers, arranged in umbels usually less than 30 cm of diameter with 15 to 30 rays. The peripheral flowers have a radial symmetry (zygomorphic). The terminal umbels are flat-topped and the outermost petals are enlarged. Flowering typically occurs between June and October.

The flowers are pollinated by insects, such as beetles, wasps and especially flies. The small fruits are schizocarps, flattened and winged, elliptical to rounded and glabrous, up to 1 cm long. The seed dispersal is by wind (anemochory).

The characteristic pig-like smell of the flowers gives it its name. The leaves are commonly mined by the larvae of the leaf miner Phytomyza spondylii.

H. sphondylium is smaller than dangerous Heracleum mantegazzianum (giant hogweed) and Heracleum sosnowskyi (Sosnowsky’s hogweed), and should not be confused. However, it contains some of the same phytophototoxic compounds (furanocoumarins), albeit at lower concentrations, and there is evidence that the sap from common hogweed can also produce phytophotodermatitis (burns and rashes) when contaminated skin is exposed to sunlight. Care therefore needs to be used when cutting or trimming it, to prevent ‘strimmers rash’.


A very easily grown plant, succeeding in any ordinary garden soil, doing best in moist soils or deep woodland. Grows well in full sun or partial shade. This species contains a large number of sub-species. Some, but by no means all of them, can cause various problems as detailed at the top of this record. Subspecies transylvanicum, pyrenaicum, montanum, orsinii and alpinum are distinctly phototoxic, subspecies sphondylium and sibiricum are not phototoxic whilst subspecies granatense and ternatum vary in their toxicity. A good bee plant. For polyculture design as well as the above-ground architecture (form – tree, shrub etc. and size shown above) information on the habit and root pattern is also useful and given here if available. The plant growth habit is a clumper with limited spread . The root pattern is a tap root similar to a carrot going directly down.

Edible Uses:
Stem and young shoots – raw or cooked. Used as a green vegetable, when harvested just as they are sprouting from the ground they are somewhat like asparagus in flavour. The rind is somewhat acrid. The leaf stems are tied in bundles and dried in the sun until they turn yellow. A sweet substance resembling sugar forms on the dried stems and is considered to be a great delicacy. The peduncles, before flowering, can be eaten as a vegetable or added to soups. Root – cooked. It is usually boiled.

Medicinal Uses:
The roots and the leaves are aphrodisiac, digestive, mildly expectorant and sedative. The plant is little used in modern herbalism but has been employed in the treatment of laryngitis and bronchitis. A tincture made from the aerial parts of the plant has also been used to relieve general debility, though it is uncertain how it works. The plant is harvested as it comes into flower and can be dried for later use.

Known Hazards: Many members of this genus, including many of the sub-species in this species, contain furanocoumarins. These have carcinogenic, mutagenic and phototoxic properties. See below for more details.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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