Cow-parsnip

Secwepemc name: xwtállp

cow-parsnipCow-parsnip, or “Wild Rhubarb” :”Indian rhubarb” is an important traditional green vegetable for the Secwepemc and other British Columbia aboriginal peoples. However, it can be used only when young, must be carefully prepared or it can be harmful. This vegetable has not been used much in the past 25 years or so, according to Mary Thomas; before this time, it was very popular; many people today remember their parents and grandparents enjoying it. The stems are picked in the early spring, usually from March through April. People distinguish two parts: the “female” plant (the leafstalk), nuxwenxwúpye7, and the “male” plant (flowerbud stalk), sqelemcwúpye7. The “female” leafstalk is prepared by splitting it along its entire length, then peeling away and discarding the outer fibrous part and eating the fleshy inside tissues. The “male” flowerbud stalks are picked while the flowerbud itself is undeveloped, and is just a small bulge along the side of the stalk, covered over by a sheathing leaf base. The bud stalk is peeled all around, leaving a hollow cylinder of mild, crunchy edible tissue (Kuhnlein and Turner 1987). Usually both parts are simply eaten raw, but they can also be steamed, like asparagus, or cut up and boiled in stews and soups. The plant is boiled and the solution used to wash bedding, clothing, furniture, floors and walls, or, alternately, the leaves and stems can simply be placed under chairs, couches and beds as a repellent.   Mary Thomas said that in late summer, when the “Indian rhubarb” is finished, the stalks become hard. If these hollow stalks are cut open, small, white insect larvae can be found inside. Mary’s grandma and grandpa would use these larvae for bait when they went fishing. Many of these bait-filled plants could be found along the Salmon River, exactly where they were needed. There was also an abundance of cow-parsnip sought for its edible green shoots in spring, as Mary Thomas remembered.

Fairly common at low to subalpine elevations in moist sites; along waterways, in drainage areas, valley bottoms, etc. Prefers deciduous forests.

The plant grew in abundance along the Salmon River when Mary was younger. Still grows along the trail by the river.