A woman in Vermont is warning others about the dangers of wild parsnip after the plant gave her the equivalent of second-degree chemical burns on her legs.

By Dave Quinn
Courtesy of Charlotte Murphy

Charlotte Murphy of Essex said she came into contact with the invasive yellow flowered-plant when she fell into a brush of it on the side of the road.

At the time, the 21-year-old Elon University student didn’t know what the plant was, nor its dangers. But she soon learned “the terrible things the oil from its stem, leaves, and blooms can do to the skin” in the presence of sunlight, she wrote on Facebook.

According to the Department of Environmental Conservation, wild parsnip sap “contains chemicals called furanocoumarins,” which, when in contact with the skin and ultraviolet light, “can cause a severe burn within 24 to 48 hours.”

Known technically as phytophotodermatitis, the reaction “can also cause discoloration of the skin and increased sensitivity to sunlight that may last for years,” the DEC explained.

To avoid the problem, the organization urges those who come into contact with the plant to “wash the affected area thoroughly with soap and water” and to “keep it covered for at least 48 hours to prevent a reaction.”

Murphy did none of those things.

Not thinking twice about the oil, she went about her day in the hot sun. “A few bumps” popped up on her skin a few days later, but she said she had “no pain or itch” — and “continued working out in the sun allowing more sweat and UV rays to hit the skin.”

It wasn’t until a week later that things got bad. Redness increased. An itch began. Scratching it in her sleep, she woke up with blisters on her leg. By the end of the day, they had grown so big and left her leg so swollen that she couldn’t walk.

In the end, the plant “produced a burn comparable to a second degree chemical burn,” Murphy said.

Posting photos on Facebook, she showed the wild parsnip’s effect on her skin. The pictures show her leg red and swollen and covered in massive blisters. “I apologize if the photos of my burn are too intense, but they are the best way to show people what wild parsnip does,” she wrote.

After a visit to Fanny Allen Urgent Care and daily treatments at UVM burn clinic, Murphy said her legs have been getting better. Doctors bandaged it up to make sure it wouldn’t spread to other areas of her body. She is expected to make a full recovery.

“I am thankful to God for all the care I’ve received and am forever grateful for all the amazing UVM Medical Center nurses and doctors who have treated me with incredible care and kindness and for all who’ve shown me love and support during this,” she wrote in her post. “Prayers would continue to be greatly appreciated during the recovery process.”

“Most importantly, please tell everyone you know,” Murphy added, pointing out that even animals can get burned if they come in contact. “Read more about its characteristics online and educate others. Please be on the lookout the rest of the summer and get help immediately if you come in contact with it’s oil.”

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