A 2-Step Plan to Kick Fossil Fuels

A Life-Changing Talk Leads to an Energy Plan

Like many people, I want to do what I can to live more sustainably and to reduce my carbon footprint and dependence on fossil fuels. But once you get past the obvious stuff (changing light bulbs, adding insulation), the next step – and the one after that – is not always clear.

That’s what I wanted to know when I attended a seminar at the U of M called “Energy from Renewables: Confronting Global Collapse” in October 2016.

That event changed my life. Here’s why.

Continue reading

Posted in Energy | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

What Wisdom and Values Will We Need in a Challenging Future?


Tsunami of Love by artist Anne Mimi Sammis

What Will the Future Need from Us?


This weekend I was invited to be part of an elder circle where a group of very impressive “seniors,” with an imposing array of experiences under their belts, was asked to reflect on the question:

What lived experiences, wisdom [and values] do you feel need to be part of what may be a very difficult birthing of an emerging global reality? “

I was so intrigued by this question that I brought a version of it to the core team of my Transition group (where everyone in the room that evening happened to be over 50). We had a rich conversation. See the values and the life experience we believe older folks can bring forward to meet the challenges ahead.

Continue reading

Posted in Climate Change/Science, Psychology of change | 2 Comments

GrowthBuster Movie Screening with the Filmmaker!

Join Me for a Movie Night

I am excited to say that this month’s movie screening for Transition Longfellow’s movie night will be “GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth” and the filmmaker Dave Gardner is going to be joining us!

Friday, April 13, 7 pm at Walker Community Church, 3104 16th Avenue S.

“GrowthBusters” doesn’t dwell on the hot, hard facts of climate change, peak energy, and biodiversity loss. Instead, Gardner asks vital questions about human psychology:

  • Why is a roaring economy more important to us than human survival on this beautiful and finite planet?
  • What cultural barriers prevent us from acting rationally when we know the damaging effects we are having on  people and places – even our own people and our own places?
  • What are the beliefs and behaviors we must leave behind, and what values do we need to embrace in order for our children and grandchildren to survive and thrive?

I’m excited to have the filmmaker with us because understanding the “problem” of economic growth is both obvious and really hard to get your head around. In a culture steeped in capitalism, with government, businesses and the media focused almost exclusively on growth (consumption, consumerism, GDP, productivity, efficiency, progress), are we even capable of seeing growth as the problem? Can we imagine a future where growth is not the goal? Where sufficiency replaces more-more-more?

Where we truly LOVE our children and our neighbor and our world so much that we actually choose to change? And how do we change? What would a sustainable future look like?

Let’s have the conversation. Join me on Friday the 13th, 7 pm at Walker Community Church.

Posted in Groups/Events, Psychology of change, Transition economy | Tagged | Leave a comment

Efficiency Won’t Cut It. We Have to Power Down.

The Sacred Cow of Energy Efficiency is Really a Trojan Horse

Andrew Nikiforuk, a Canadian journalist writing on energy topics, published an insightful article last month on “The Curse of Energy Efficiency.” I’m going to give you a synopsis and then talk about how we can overcome the problem he identified.

If you follow Xcel, the Department of Commerce, the state legislaturereally, anyone working on energyyou know that efficiency is the key to deep reductions in energy use. According to Nikiforuk, the International Energy Agency said energy efficiency could achieve 49% of the greenhouse gas reductions we need by 2030.

And it’s certainly true that we’ve made huge strides in energy efficiency in almost every type of electrified product. Computers are more efficient. Cars and planes are more efficient. Kitchen appliances are 75% more efficient than they were in the 1990s! We should be saving lots of energy, and be well on our way to lowering our carbon footprint.

But we’re not.

The truth is, increases in energy efficiency encourage more use. Stanley Jevons, a coal economist, noted years ago that efficiencies in technology encouraged industry to apply that technology to more and more activities. Jevon’s observation is called the Jevon’s Paradox. For example:

  • A more efficient steam engine encouraged the proliferation of steam engines for other purposes, requiring even more coal.
  • Improved fuel efficiency of airplanes resulted in cheaper fares and more people flying. Flying is now responsible for 4.9% of manmade climate change.
  • Papermaking is 3 times more efficient (energy wise) than it was in 1965, so we now create 22% more documents880 billion of them a year (just in the U.S.)!
  • The LED light bulb is 70 to 80% more energy efficient, but that didn’t lower lighting costs; it led to LEDs being used in more applications and people and municipalities added more lights. So many more lights, in fact, that National Geographic reported that “the amount of artificial light coming from Earth’s surface at night has increased in radiance and extent by 2% every year for the past four years—driven by the rapid adoption of bright LEDs and development.” This is having serious disruptive consequences for both wildlife and for humans, interrupting sleep-wake patterns. It also impacts plant growth, plant flowering, and insect pollination. It’s a very big problem indeed.

Economists admit that energy efficiencies could wipe out between 20 and 50% of energy savings. Alone, energy efficiency is not going to result in the kind of energy and carbonreduction we need to address a changing climate.

We Need to Power Down

Powering down is one of the core themes of the Transition movement. We need to use less fossil fuel power. Sure, be efficient when you use power – just flat out use less.

You can start by eliminating electricity-using products for functions that could be accomplished without electricity. Switch out an electric toothbrush for a regular one, a manual can opener for electric, air drying for hair drying and clothes drying.

Those little changes are only going to go so far. Then you’ve got to start using your imagination – and your courage. You’ve got to imagine what it would be like to live differently and then have the courage to buck the status quo. How could you give it a try?

  • What if your sleep-wake schedule more closely fit daylight/night-time?
  • What if you used light only where you needed it? Or carried your light with you from room to room?
  • What if you took technology breaks?
  • What if you had game nights and puzzle brunches instead of going out to the movies, or window shopping?
  • What if… what if?

How Will We Power Down This Summer?

We made our biggest commitments to power reduction when we moved to the city, switched to mass transit, and installed solar panels, but I know we’ve fallen down on some of our energy reduction efforts. We haven’t seen a $5 power bill for awhile. We need to recommit.

  1. We’re going to do more solar cooking. We love the results and we’d like to be more adventurous, particularly with baking.
  2. We’re going to go back to living life unplugged. We’ll plug it in only when in use.
  3. We use the computer too much. Way too much! Not only is that unhealthy for us physically and psychologically; it contributes to our habits of over-consumption and online purchasing. We really, really need to:
    1. Institute a computer sabbath,  one day a week when we don’t go online.
    2. Commit to shutting down at 7 pm.
    3. Stop a moment to choose the least energy-intensive technology. Our old desktop computer is not very efficient but we want to keep it out of the landfill as long as possible. Rather than using it to do all of our computer-related activities, we could make a point of doing some of those tasks on less energy-intensive devices. For example, checking Facebook on my solar-chargable phone. A tablet can also be solar charged, and would allow for more typing-intensive activities. We’re going to start a new habit of solar charging all batteries and technologies every day.

Encouraging Powerdown in Community

I can think of a few things I could do relatively quickly in my community life to try to implement changes outside my home.

  1. The first is small: it’s the light in the alley right outside my house. My old neighbor paid to have an EXTRA light in the alley. We now have new neighbors and I bet they don’t know they are paying extra. I’m going to ask them to discontinue that light.
  2. While I’m thinking of lights, I could talk to my city council member during his community open hours about reducing the overall number of street lights. We need to start weighing these damaging health effects into the equation.
  3. And then I’m going to ask the organizer of one of my monthly meetings if they can offer an online meeting option every month. Some of these meetings – attended by hundreds of people – are really far away and there is no mass transit option. We’d save a lot of gas and time for a lot of people if it could be simulcast.

What are some steps you can take to begin to power down?



Posted in Energy | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

Being Part of a Transition Group

Beginning the Transition Journey

When my husband and I sat down at a coffee shop in 2010 to talk with two other people about starting a Transition group, I would not have imagined all of the things I would learn and do over the next 7 years. Transition Longfellow has been an expansive experience.

I tell people Transition is a way of thinking and a direction, as well as a local and global grassroots movement. That sounds pretty high falutin. What does it really mean?

Transition Gives Us Back our Self Determination

Every day we make innumerable decisions that individually and collectively have an impact on our world. Our culture pushes us to make those decisions based on what we “want” and  what we “deserve.” And our consumer society is set up to short-circuit our decision-making process by making some things easy (turn up the thermostat), convenient (get in the car), and distractingly addictive (Facebook). It makes other (often better) things quite difficult (carpooling) or expensive (solar).

When you dig deeper into the issues Transition looks at – food resilience, cutting carbon, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels – it changes the way you look at your everday decisions. You ask yourself different questions: “What is the carbon footprint or the collective impact of of this decision? Could I do this another way? Do I really need to do this at all?”

You make decisions in a new way.

Transition Provides Direction

One of the first activities Transition groups do is engage their community in a visioning process to identify what a healthy, sustainable future would look like in their area. What  direction do we need and want to go? The answer to that question will be different in different places. It may be water issues in New Mexico and seed sovereignty in India. I heard from a student, who had visited a Transition group in Bolivia, say that improving male-female relationships and overcoming the damaging effects of machismo was one of the first things the group she visited chose to tackle.

In my neighborhood it could be improving mass transit, getting safer bike lanes, helping to get more homes weatherized and insulated, increasing the number of solar installations on rooftops or getting more people signed up for solar gardens, helping people grow more food, or helping people identify and prepare for the effects of climate change.

In my mind, I see all of those “good things” as part of a big river flowing in the direction of a sustainable, healthy future. There are many streams of effort feeding that river and everyone can be part of it. In fact, millions of people are taking hundreds of millions of actions. Even when some governments or some businesses put up a damn to try to divert us, this is one great big roiling river. We are not alone.

Transition Provides a Structure for Personal Exploration

My husband and my involvement in Transition Longfellow has inspired us to try so many new things: from dropping a car, to finding a new home for 1,079 possessions,  creating an edible landscape and learning to preserve our own foods. We’re more interesting people because of it – and we’re also more skilled.

Last fall I got to meet Brianna Harrington and learned about her project, the 15/30 Challenge. I’m so impressed by her efforts to raise awareness of the tragic wastefulness of fast fashion. From the massive diversion of water to grow fiber, to the childhoods and health lost in sweatshops, to the dumping of used clothes on African nations, ruining their clothing industry and impoverishing their culture. Cheap clothes – fast fashion – for us has had devastated effects across the globe. I hope to take her challenge soon – once I learn how to use Instagram to share my efforts :).

Transition Builds the Local Community and Economy

We have met many, many neighbors. Although I’d lived here 23 years, it wasn’t until we started a Transition group that I knew more than a handful of neighbors. I’ve met at least 150 new people and made dozens of real friends. Some of these people became my support system as I took on the task of providing home care for my dying mother. They cared for me as I cared for her.

As we move further into climate change and feel more of its effects on our health and safety, these relationships within commuity will become even more important.

We have found role models all across the metro area who are doing things to reduce their use of fossil fuels and live a more sustainable life. Lee Olson taught us to grow sprouts. Annette taught us to make jam. Bruce and Aggie inspire us to grow big with their huge garden. And our new friend Lisa is helping us think about preparedness.

We have found businesses to take us in the right direction. Ralph Jacobson from Innovative Power Systems and Bruce Stahlberg from Affordable Energy Solutions have helped us reduce our home energy use. The folks at Gandhi Mahal restaurant have demonstrated how a restaurant can source its food hyper-locally, growing its own veggies and fish IN THE CITY! The Tiny Diner has become a hub for learning and growing by offering food-related classes.

That river of Transition needs businesses of all sizes and business professionals in all fields to stop and ask the questions:

  • “What is the carbon footprint or the collective impact of this decision?”
  • “Could we do this another way”
  • “Do we really need to do this at all?”

And when they do, Transition can make those actions visible so we can all support and learn from those efforts. So we can see that we are, in fact, all in this together.

Posted in mini challenges, Psychology of change, Transition economy, Transition Info | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

We Choose to Live With Roommates

What the Realtor Doesn’t Know

A few of the 24 garden beds

We were approached last spring by a realtor who was hoping we wanted to sell our house. I’m always thinking, “Maybe we’d like to have a smaller house on 5 acres. Maybe I’d like to plant a small orchard, grow a larger garden. Maybe my real future is in hazelnuts and sour cherries ….”

So I said yes, he could give me an estimate of the value of my house on today’s market. I warned him our house wasn’t typical; and as I expected, he was unsure whether our veggie gardens, fruit trees, edible landscape, solar PV and solar hot air had value.

When he called back to give us a figure, using comps that were in no way comparable, he tried to sell us on the idea by saying we could finally get our own place (we have one) and stop living with roommates.

I know he just doesn’t get it.

We  live with roommates for a lot of good reasons.

  • There is an affordable housing shortage in our community and we can provide some truly affordable space.
  • We earn some extra income, which we use to make repairs and upgrades to this 97-year-old house.
  • It cuts our carbon footprint in half – and yes, that factored into our decision making! You can’t shrink your house but you can share it.
  • It increases security for all of us. We live in a city and I love it, but there is crime. With four people living and often working at home, there is someone here a lot of the time.
  • It keeps my husband and I in touch with younger folks. It’s amazing how age-segregated our society is! I want to stay connected with what younger people are thinking and doing. Our roommates are usually younger and the good ones bring friends with them.
  • When we rent to international students, we learn about others cultures and we try new foods, like those scrumptious Colombian cheesy rolls. Yum!

While not a big factor in our decision-making, there are other benefits as well.

  • We own a lot of stuff cuz, uh, we’re “old.” By sharing kitchen ware, towels, appliances, electronics, camping gear, etc., our roommates don’t need to buy it and we’ve reduced the pressure of consumerism.
  • We live in a bungalow community of mostly small, single-family homes. When we increase the number of people living here, we increase density, which is a factor in getting better bus frequency and in attracting more local businesses!

Sometimes we don’t have the best roommates. Sometimes they aren’t that friendly or they have unfortunate habits (I’m sure we do, too). But with all of these benefits and the many ways house sharing supports our values, it’s really worth it to keep trying to find folks who are a good fit.

Few decisions we make will have this big an impact.

Posted in Sharing | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Would It Make Financial Sense to Drop A Car?

What is Car Ownership Really Costing Us?

NERD ALERT – Looking at the numbers

One of the things I love about the Longfellow neighborhood – and a big reason I wanted to live here – was its close proximity to everything. That made it possible, in 2010, for my husband and I make the decision to become a one-car household. In the past 7 years we’ve found that to be a pretty easy lifestyle change, with only an occasional inconvenience. In fact, it’s been so easy that I’ve begun to wonder if we’re ready to go even further and give up car ownership altogether.

The Dollars and Cents of Transportation (Including Carbon)

According to AAA, in 2017 the average auto driver spent $706 a month to own and operate their vehicle for an average of 15,000 miles. Think about it: that’s almost as much as the rent on an efficiency apartment in Minneapolis! And that figure doesn’t include the cost of car payments – or the cost of its associated carbon footprint.

So what does transportation cost my two-person family? I took a look at NerdWallet’s Car Cost Calculator and then factored in the rest of our transportation costs.

  • Gas: Our car gets about 25 mpg in the city. We drive 6,000 to 7,000 miles a year so we used about 280 gallons of gas @ $2.30/gallon = $644/yr. Let’s account for the full cost of that gas by looking at the amount of CO2 we produced. Burning a gallon of E10 gas produces 18.9 pounds of CO2 so our 280 gallons produced 5,292 pounds of carbon, or 2.6 tons. If we carbon-tax ourselves at, let’s say $40 per ton, we’d pay an extra $104/yr.
  • Insurance for two: about $1,200/yr
  • Maintenance and repairs: If the past 6 months are typical, it would be about $200 a month or $2,400 /yr
  • Car Payment: Zero, our car is 12 years old.
  • Parking: $20/month or $240/yr
  • Taxes: $45/yr

Car Ownership = $5,381/yr

We also use mass transit. We spend $80 a month ($960/yr) to take the bus and light rail, which saves us, at minimum, $120 a month in parking ($1,440/yr) and the absolute nightmare of driving downtown. We hopped on the bus to get to the Ordway last month and saved parking and a whole lot of hassle fighting traffic with all the sports events occurring that night!

Taking the bus shaves 30% off my husbad’s work-related carbon footprint, according to Transit Screen. Taking the light rail shaves another 30%. Driving fewer miles keeps our insurance lower, too.

Total Transit Cost Per Year: $6,341/yr

What if we dropped our other car and …

  • Took the Bus: Bought one all-you-can-ride monthly bus card and one stored-value card for when we need to travel together ($103/month or $1,236/yr)
  • Biked more: Peter could ride his bike to work to save money from May-October, while finally getting in some exercise. His employer offers a secure bike garage at his building so he would pay nothing. (If his employer didn’t have the locker option, he could rent a bike locker from Metro Transit.) (-$120/yr)
  • Used Hour Car Sharing Service: $8.50 an hour and 100 miles free (no charge for gas or miles) with $55/yr fee (x 2). We’d need to bus to the closest car sharing hub about 2 miles away.  If I used a car 3 days a week for maybe 8 hours that would be $292/month or $3,504/yr. Hour Car provides insurance so we’d save (-$1,200). Hour Car pays for the gas, too, so we wouldn’t spend -$644. If I still drove the same number of miles, I’d still have the same carbon footprint ($104 carbon tax) and I’d still be paying to park ($240/yr).
  • Rented a car for vacation: We could borrow a friend’s car for a few days or we could rent an Hour Car for $75 a day for the weekend, or rent a car at the airport for $350 a week. Last year we took a 2-week trip and traveled by train and bus. If we had to plan separately for transportation, it would make us more aware of the true cost of our trip.

Transit Cost Without Car Ownership: $5,074/yr -$5,194

Cost for Convenience: around $1,147-$1,267

That’s not as much of a difference as I expected. And if we took a 2-week vacation and paid to rent a car, it would be half that savings. But it’s possible that making this change would result in more changes. That we’d look for opportunities to carpool, or we’d drive even less.

We’ve talked it over and we’re going to try a month-long no-car challenge to see how it goes.




Posted in Transportation | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Energy Workshop is a Call to Action

I attended a day-long seminar at the engineering school at the U of M back in October: “Energy from Renewables: Confronting Global Collapse.” It was a mix of hope and despair. Lots of good information, much of it new to me. And a clear message that our timeline for action is really, really short. Various speakers offered guidance on steps we need to take right now, and glimpses of amazing technologies that we can only hope will be perfected and rolled out in the near future.

After attending that seminar, any talk about 2050 is no longer credible to me. We do not have that long to make a significant change. According to folks at The Solutions Project, we need to shift to 80% renewables by 2030. So tell me what we can do today and by 2020 and by 2025.

Energy Seminar Lights a Fire

Action 1: Work immediately on energy efficiency in every possible way. Dig into your energy bills. Cut!

Action 2: Reduce your carbon footprint immediately. If you drive more than 8,000 miles a year, lease an electric car. Some things may need to fly, but you and I are not among them.

Sculpture in Sebastapol

Action 3: Electrify your life. Shift everything you can to electric and shift your electricity to solar or other renewables. If you can afford rooftop solar, do it now (and with batteries). If you can’t but want it, see if you can do a bulk buy deal with some neighbors to get the price down. If you can’t do that, buy into a community solar garden even if it doesn’t save you money.

Stop thinking that money is your return on investment. A livable climate is the only return that counts right now. Invest in life.

Action 4: Think twice about rice. That food is responsible for 46% of all crop-related greenhouse gas emissions. Eat local, reduce meat consumption, support responsible farmers. Know that when raised right, grazing animals are good for the land. (Think about it, they evolved together and this country used to be home to millions of buffalo.)

Action 5: If you own land, reforest and food forest. Gardeners, do not buy peat.

Action 6: Practice hospitality now, in a variety of ways, so you will be prepared to practice it in earnest in the not too distant future. Greenland has lost a trillion tons of ice in four years and ice melt is accelerating, as is sea level rise. Your Florida relatives may soon be living with you.

Our business schools are a training ground for climate denial, which prevents action from occurring and regulations from being adopted. Our business schools need to be confronted and transformed.

The media has been a tool in the hands of deniers. They need to be held accountable. In 1996, the Minnesota News Council DID hold one of them accountable for turning to a famous climate denier for “balance” in a news story. The News Council no longer exists, but you and I are still here. We must raise a ruckus to shine a light on false stories, false premises, false “fairness.”

“When it comes to the environment, the invisible hand never picks up the check.” — Kim Stanley Robinson

Posted in Energy | Tagged | Leave a comment

Apiaceae Family – Fennel and Parsnip

This time we’ll look at two less frequently grown plants in the Apiaceae family of vegetables – parsnip and bulb fennel. I’ve grown parsnips and I’ve tried to grow bulb fennel, with no success.


I’ve planted what was identified as bulb producing fennel a couple of times and I’ve never been able to grow a bulb; only tall and exuberant fronds with lots of flowers and seeds. That’s not to say it can’t be done.

So why bother if I’m only getting the leafy plant? Because I like the fennel seeds that follow the flowering, a tasty treat that freshens your breath and aids indigestion. Chew them when they’re still a bit green for a lovely pop of flavor. Fennel seeds can also be used in cooking and as a flavoring. It tastes like anise. The feathery fronds are edible and can be added to salads. If you are lucky enough to get a root, chop it up and add raw to salads. It’s delightful.

Letting this plant go to seed, however, is problematic. You’ll have a LOT of fennel seeds and next year you will a have a LOT of fennel everywhere. Fennel can create a veritable wall of delicious vegetation that is not easy to remove as it has a long taproot.

Fennel has a few more benefits that might just make it worthwhile. It is highly repellent to fleas; you can put dried fennel leaves in a kennel to protect your dog. It also repels aphids. And it attracts some of the bugs you’d like to see in your garden – ladybugs, hoverflies, and parasitic wasps (the good ones).

Because it has a taproot, it does not like to be transplanted. Sow it where you intend for it to grow. And sow it by itself; fennel has no plant companions.

Fennel can withstand cold weather but harvest before freezing.

Health Benefits of fennel: Fennel (the bulb) has a good amount of dietary fiber, as well as vitamin C, folate and potassium.


Parsnip seeds deteriorate quickly so get new seeds every year. If you are trying to save seeds, you’ll need to let the plant overwinter and go to seed the following year. It’s a biennial. Mother Earth News suggests sprouting your seeds first in a wet paper towel in an airtight container, and then planting them once the first seeds have sprouted. They need 110 to 120 days so plant them in early spring in loose, fertile soil. They’ll do well with an application of compost and regular weeding. And keep them consistently moist. These are thirsty plants!

Harvesting and Storing Parsnips: Harvest them AFTER the first frost. The cold weather makes them sweeter. In fact, parsnips contain more sugar than carrots, and are comparable to bananas! Don’t let them get too big or they can become woody. You can leave them in the ground and continue to harvest through the winter (a straw mulch over the row will make it easier to dig them out). Or avoid the risk of over-maturity by pulling them out in the fall, washing them, and taking off the tops. Now they’re ready to store in the fridge (not freezer) in a plastic bag. They’ll keep up to two months.

Pests: Several insects find parsnips a tasty treat. Their leaves can be invaded by celery leaf miner larvae and the root can be damaged by carrot fly larvae. Parsnips are also vulnerable to a whole host of diseases – parsnip canker (choose a resistant variety), two kinds of root rot (in which case, remove them from your property and don’t plant parsnips in that spot for four years), powdery mildew, and numerous viruses.

Health Benefits of Parsnips: With everything that could go wrong with parsnips, why bother? Because parsnips are a very healthy food. They have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. They are a great source of soluble and insoluble fiber – the kind that can reduce blood cholesterol. It is high in vitamin C and many of the B vitamins, as well as K and E. And they contain lots of mineral. Most of the vitamins and minerals are found close to the skin so peel it finely or cook it whole.

Cooking parsnips: While you could eat it raw, it’s usually baked, fried as chips, roasted with other root vegetables, or boiled and mashed like potatoes. You can cube it and add it to soups or stews, or you can remove the cubes and use the starchy cooking water to thicken broths. Don’t overcook it; which is easy to do because it contains so much sugar.

You can even make wine with Parsnips!

Food Safety Note for Parsnips

Parsnip stems and leaves contain a photosensitive chemical that causes skin redness, burning and blisters if the skin is exposed to sunlight after handling. This is a type of chemical burn, not an allergic reaction. That’s why you want to remove the leaves and stems right away.

Parsnips are also one of those vegetables that people with a birch pollen allergy may react to, with itching, burning, and breathing difficulties.

Wild Plants in the Family: Cow Parsnip

Cow parsnip is a native plant found in many counties in Minnesota. It’s in the same family as parsnip and Native peoples are reported to have eaten the young leaves and stalks, but unless you know what you’re doing, it’s best to leave this parsnip cousin alone. Wild parsnip contain toxic chemicals called furanocoumarins. Like regular parsnips, the juice from the leaves and stems are photo-toxic, causing a severe and persistent rash when the skin is exposed to sunlight. If you get any of the juice on your hands when pulling this plant out of your garden, wash your hands immediately.

An Extremely Dangerous Relative: Giant Hogweed

While researching this family, I learned about giant hogweed. This plant sounds like it came out of an X-File episode. Like parsnips, its sap has photo-toxic effects, but this plant takes it to the extreme. If you come in contact with it, the blistering can be so severe as to require hospitalization and it can leave lifelong scars and skin discoloration. If it comes in contact with your eyes, it can cause blindness.

It is most common on the East Coast but has been moving steadily westward. It was recently found in Wisconsin… so it’s heading our way.

Posted in Food/gardening | Leave a comment