I suffered from the effects of hogweed for over a week before I found out what was causing the excruciating pain on my feet. I asked a dozen locals if they could match my symptoms with anything. No one could. That’s why it’s an important plant to be aware of.
My experience with hogweed was in Ireland but it’s found all over Europe, the United Kingdom and the northeastern United States. Hogweed is a giant plant, growing up to 14 feet tall, with white flowers and big leaves. If you come into contact with its sap, your skin becomes ultra-sensitive to sunlight. If you are exposed at all to the sun, you will feel the most painful sunburn of your life.
Were spent a month biking around Ireland in 2010. We think I (McKayla) must have come in contact with the plant while “popping a squat” (peeing) on the side of the road since that would have been one of the only times I was trudging around in vegetation that Nate wasn’t.
The pain woke me up in the middle of the night while we were staying at a B&B. Scrambling to make the incredible itchy, burning sensation go away, I improvised. ibuprofen did nothing. I tried running icy water over my feet in the shower. That provided temporary relief for the burning but still made them itch. Of course, I couldn’t scratch them because of the burn and I couldn’t stand in the shower all night. So I grabbed two towels from the bathroom and a rope from our backpacks and tied the towels tight. Somehow, this provided some relief. Don’t ask me why. It sounds ridiculous and looks even more so. Worth it.
We told ourselves that if they continued to hurt that bad in the morning, we’d pause our bike trip. In the morning, they felt much better so I put my sandals on and hopped on my bike and exposed my feet to the sun for another 8 hours.
That night, the pain returned in full force.
In the following days, we bought some Benadryl and Neosporin but mostly, we drank. Nate was a sweetheart and bought me bottles of alcohol to numb the pain and help me sleep. No one at the pharmacy or at the hostels had any idea what was wrong with me.
Once we finally biked our way back to Galway, I saw a doctor. She took one look and knew immediately it was hogweed. She told me to put zinc oxide and aloe vera on my feet and to keep them out of the sun. It took another week to heal and the scars stayed around for months but eventually, my feet went back to normal.
You can read more about our month bicycling around Ireland here.