Hogweed is a member of the umbelifer family. This family contains some of the most poisonous and deadly species found in Britain, so always take special care when collecting or using any of them. Hogweed is also very similar to Giant Hogweed Heracleum mantegazzianum. This huge plant (up to 6m) has a photosensitive juice which will cause burning to the skin and mouth if exposed to light. This can cause life-long changes to skin colour and may leave you with permanent sensitivity to sunlight. In fact, many members of this genus contain mutagenic, carcinogenic and phototoxic properties.
Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium
This sturdy plant, also known as cow parsnip was originally used as pigs fodder hence the name hogweed. It can be found in most hedgerows, and most readers will be very familiar with it, even if you don’t know it by name! The flowers form large umbrella shapes and attract lots of flies, mainly due to the nasty scent it produces.
LEAVES – the young leaves may be eaten raw or cooked.
SHOOTS – As above – plus a sugary substance can be extracted from them and used a sugar substitute.
ROOT – the root may also be eaten and is best boiled. Always take care when using the root of any species. Each year in the Europe several people poison themselves (often fatally) from eating the roots of wrong species. See cautions above.
I have added some notes to the comments below, as it seems that quite a few of you are confusing this species with that of giant hogweed (please see original notes above). Thank you.