Scientific NamesHeracleum lanatum, H. Sphondlium

Common Names:  Cow Cabbage, American Masterwort, Yerba del Oso, Wooly Parsnip 

Photograph thanks to:

Copyright 1995-2003 Henriette Kress.


Appearance:  Robust, pungent, perennial herb it grows as tall as 5 ft., with hallow stems.  Leaves are either irregularly palmate or divided into 3 large maple shaped leaflets, and the plant has clasping stalk bases, with large flat-topped umbels of white flowers.  The flowers sometimes form heads 1 foot across, and mature into large flat seeds that are round and deeply grooved.  It is a big, hairy coarse member of the parsley family.  The hole plant is scented with a strong arid-celery smell and is almost unbearable to the taste

Habitat:  In California the higher coastal ranges in or near water and above 6,000 ft. of the Sierra Nevada's, and in the middle elevations of the forests.  Also found in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Idaho, Utah, Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana in or near water.  Above 8,500 ft it is common in moist meadows and wet hillsides.



Collecting:  The roots in late August or September, the seeds when rip with darker stripes in July or August.  Roots should be split once or twice from top to bottom and dried; sections should be no more than inch thick.  Most finer processing should only take place before use.  The stems should be cut below the lowest green leaves and bundled.  Then bound two or three inches from the cut ends.  If the plants are dirty or hairy they may be washed under cold water but make sure to make the bundles small to prevent spoilage.


Medical Uses For Asthma:   The root or seeds act as a antispasmodic and may help bronchial spasms.  The roots should be boiled to make a tea and drank to help treat asthmatic symptoms.



Caution:  This herb can be easily confused with its poisonous relatives the Water Hemlocks.  While collecting cover the skin.  People with sensitive skin can develop dark blotches, rashes, and even blisters when come into contact.  Furanocoumarns contained in cow-parsnip have been shown to cause cancer and trigger dangerous cell changes in some animals.