A Nasty Allergen Every Veg Grower Needs to Know About

Danger in the Vegetable Plot

The wonderful thing about gardening is that we all learn something new every day. And for your own safety, my current lesson needs to be heard by all.

If you grow celery, parsnips, carrots or celeriac, please read on. Forewarned is forearmed. And you don't want to end up with forearms like mine.

Here goes:

The tale starts with a potential comedic line. ‘I was gardening in my shorts’ which elicits the response ‘strange place to have a garden.’ But seriously, due to the hot weather I was pottering and weeding in the veg garden wearing shorts and non-gardening footwear.

Now, I pride myself on my root crops and parsnips in particular. But, at this time of year, the foliage is so tall it does tend to sprawl. Growing in my raised beds the louche leaves are often at shin height.

Potter, potter, weed, weed, lean into parsnip bed, pull one plant that had to run to seed, potter, potter, sit back and relax in the warm sun. Generally, a lovely day. Then…

One day later small pin pricks of itchy red appeared on the parts of my body that were exposed (for the record naked gardening day was a few weeks ago - I'm talking lower legs, lower arms, hands).

They were annoying, nothing more, but the itchiness intensified. That night was excruciating. Or morning to be precise. 2.30am. The next day was distressing. Blisters, one the size of a fried egg and others the size of 10p pieces plastered those areas. I won't go into too much detail but… well, I just won’t. You’ve had or seen blisters before.

It wasn't a nettle rash - I’ve had loads of those over the years - and no insect would get away with chomping so many times on me. It wasn’t sunburn as I smother myself in factor 50 and I wasn’t out in the sun for too long.

Could it be? Surely not, but it had to be…PARSNIPS.

I used the alternative to the NHS (google) and discovered phytophotodermatitis (PPD) and parsnips. That’s it. That’s what I have.

The whole thing stems from sap within the leaves leaking out when broken. If the sap touches skin in the presence of moisture (most skin is moist, and watering the nearby begonias guaranteed my skin was definitely moist ) and, most importantly, in the presence of sunlight ( our current heatwave certainly supplied that) then a chemical reaction occurs and bingo - blister-time.

I am now an expert in PPD. Of course, I am.

Parsnips are one of a few culprits. Carrots are in that group. Celery is another. Celeriac another. Crikey - I am growing all of those in my veg plot and all need a bit of TLC to get them to cropping.

Giant hogweed does the same kind of thing. I’m not growing that. And that plant always gets in the papers, but parsnips? The humble carrot? It’s nasty out there.