31 July 2007

Pushki (Heracleum maximum)

It was a gloriously sunny day the Sunday before last. It actually felt like summer. I and DOG went hiking as per our usual weekend ritual. The trail wound through deep, lush vegetation that was over my head (from all that rain we get). Normally I do not worry overly much about this vegetation and just plow through. It’s been so long since we had a sunny day though that I forgot all about pushki (also known as cow parsnip or Indian celery). It was such a warm day (okay, I know 70F/ 21C does not count as hot for most of you but I live in a coastal northern environment and it has been around 40F/ 5C much of the summer) so when DOG and I reached the lake and he went for a swim I decided to join him. It was my first dip of the year and I enjoyed the sensation of the cold sucking my breath away as the glacial fed water hit my body. After a picnic lunch we hiked back, me talking my thoughts out loud to warn any bears meandering nearby that we were deep in the brush.

That evening when I was doing dishes I realized the back of my hand hurt. On closer inspection I realized that rather larger brown blisters had developed all the way across the back of my hand. They looked like an infected burn. I racked my brain to think of when I might have burned them – I would have remembered if I had spilled something hot on them wouldn’t I? Ah, yes, then I remembered the pushki. The juices of this lovely plant contain a phototoxin, which with the interaction of sunlight, can create a chemical burn on the skin. Of course! And I had been brandishing through them all day, likely breaking more then a few leaves and letting the juices flow on a bright sunny day. The other disconcerting thing about pushki is that the burn can take about 4 hours to show up so you don’t realize your mistake right away.

As the blisters were infected I popped them with a sterile needle and then used a cotton swab to press out the infected liquid and mop it up. Then I put a pad of second skin across all of the burnt areas and wrapped it with tape. I got all kinds of questions all week about what kind of a fight I got into. Now it has healed enough to take the wrappings off but it is still an angry scarry red which looks rather like something large sunk it's teeth into my hand. I'm not sure how I only burned that portion of my hand and not more. I wonder if my swim in the lake may have helped as you can escape reaction if you can wash pushki off your skin before exposing yourself to sunlight. Thankfully DOG escaped it all together, an acquaintance's dog got in the stuff the same weekend and is intense pain, suffering full body burns.


  1. now that's what i call a hike. at first i thought you were going to say big ticks had buried themselves in your skin so actually, this was easier to take. but perhaps not for you.

  2. Hope your hand gets better soon! I find your blog fascinating, I'm finding out all sorts of things I never knew about.

  3. Ouch!

    I think you should tell people that something did sink its teeth into you.... and that you are the first scientista to discover it... Because, that would be more fun..... maybe YOU met sasquatch!

  4. jen ~ well, I've been there too (and still have the scars to prove it - kf course, I had to identify the ticks to species!) but luckily there are NO ticks in AK. No poisonous snake or spiders, just pushki and bears.

    gill ~ welcome! I'm glad you like it! I will come over and visit you on your blog soon.

    orangeblossoms ~ up here I think it would be Yeti...that's the high arctic/ alpine version of Sasquatch and of course it has a white coat to blend in with the snowy landscape. :)

  5. Oooh nasty. That swim sounded glorious, I remember the feeling well, by the time you get ankle deep your bones feel numb. I had forgotten all about warning away bears whilst hiking, I used to carry bells and am still fond of jingling ankle braclets...though that could stem from my hippie child days...

  6. dj kirby ~ oh, the swim was glorious! And about the bear bells you know the joke about how you can tell grizzly scat from black bear scat don't you? It's the one with the little bells in it! :)

  7. wayfarer--

    i am asking forgiveness, instead of permission. i clipped a few of your photos to go with a little story i wrote for a sick little boy. they won't go anywhere other than my blog, and i am happy to remove them if you are troubled.

    love the blog, by the way--i'll be back to read more


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