Giant Hogweed And Other Plants That Can Cause Skin Irritation

Giant Hogweed

Amongst all the plants found in the UK that cause skin irritation, Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is likely the best known and the one that has gained the most notoriety. It is indeed one of the most dangerous of the plants we encounter here and can cause phytophotodermatitis in humans, which results in long-lasting blisters and scars. The reactions are caused by a substance in the plants called furocoumarin.


Pastinaca sativa leaf

What is less well known is that furocoumarin is present, though in lower amounts, in other come common members of the heracleum family, such as cow parsley/ cow parsnip and common hogweed. Though the reaction will be nowhere near as severe, skin irritation can still occur, especially if the sap gets on a gardener's skin on a sunny day. It is a good idea to wear gloves while dealing with any of this family of plants, as some people may react more extremely than others. The mature foliage of regular vegetable patch parsnips ( Pastinaca sativa) can also irritate the skin on sunny days. In the vegetable patch, tomato foliage is another to look out for as it can irritate some people.


Many commonly cultivated garden plants can be skin irritants, some universally and some only to those with a sensitivity to the allergens they contain. There are a number of different ways in which plants can irritate the skin. Firstly, there are those few which, like the heracleum examples above, can make the skin incredibly sensitive to bright sunlight and cause blistering and burns in affected areas.


Stinging Nettles

Another example of a common skin irritant is of course the stinging nettle, which can cause itchiness and raised welts, though these are not long-lasting and will cause no long-term ill-effect. The nettle is one example of a long list of plants that can cause skin irritation by means of a physical mechanism such as hairs, spikes, thorns etc.. Care should always be taken to avoid breaking the skin when gardening.


Some plants have an irritant sap that can cause blistering and a burning sensation on the skin. Euphorbias are one group of plants which have a mildly irritant sap. Poinsettias sap can also irritate the skin. The effect can vary from person to person and some people will have a far bigger problem than others so it is always a good idea to wear gloves when handling such plants.


There is an even longer list of garden plants that can cause skin irritation in some people by means of allergens. Tread carefully and protect your skin when handling plants that you have a sensitivity to, or to which you do not know whether or not you are allergic. Better safe than sorry when it comes to protecting your skin when gardening.

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