Cow parsley

The delicate white flowers and fern-like foliage of cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) is common along verges and grassy areas in spring. It is an early source of nectar for pollinators and beneficial insects but can become a weed if allowed to spread.

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Cow parsley

Quick facts

Common name: Cow parsley
Botanical name: Anthriscus sylvestris
Area affected: Orchards, paddocks and grassed areas
Main causes: Spreads by seed and root sections
Timing: Flowers from April to June; treat spring to autumn

What is cow parsley?

Cow parsley is a native biennial or short-lived perennial, rarely encountered in well-kept gardens. It can be an attractive addition in wilder areas where the flowers are visited by a wide range of insects. Learn more about making the most of lawns as a wildlife habitat and ways to help our bees;

Bees in your garden

Bees in your garden

Lawn and mini-meadow habitats

Lawn and mini-meadow habitats

Usually a wayside weed although if allowed to flower, cow parsley can be troublesome in orchards, paddocks, churchyards and similar grassed areas. This page looks at options for gardeners where cow parsley is becoming a problem.


Forms clumps of dissected, fern-like leaves. It flowers in spring (April–June), bearing umbels of white flowers on 1-1.2m (3¼-4ft) hollow stems. One of the earliest umbels to come into flower.

The problem

Cow parsley will produce large amounts of seed which is easily spread by wind or water when dry. Also the deep tap root can regrow if damaged.


First, consider whether this can be done using non-chemical means such as digging out or mowing. Where these methods are not feasible, chemical controls may need to be used.

The RHS believes that avoiding pests, diseases and weeds by good practice in cultivation methods, cultivar selection, garden hygiene and encouraging or introducing natural enemies, should be the first line of control. If chemical controls are used, they should be used only in a minimal and highly targeted manner.

Cultural control

Cultural control is practicable where there is a limited infestation; use a fork to lift out the weed by the roots in late spring when the flowering stem has developed sufficiently to provide good purchase. It is important to prevent the seed from developing.

Repeated mowing will exhaust and largely eliminate this weed from grassed areas. 

Weedkiller control

Where seed is known to have fallen on grassland, use a lawn weedkiller the following spring during the earliest stages of seedling development. At the seedling stage lawn herbicides containing 2,4-D plus dicamba or mecoprop-P (eg. Westland Aftercut All-in-One Feed, Weed and Moss Killer or Vitax All in One Lawn Feed, Weed and Mosskiller) will strongly check growth, but well-established plants are resistant to these lawn weedkillers.

Well-established plants are resistant to lawn weedkillers so are best controlled using a systemic herbicide such as glyphosate (eg. Roundup Fast Action, Job done General Purpose Weedkiller or Doff Advanced Weedkiller).

Glyphosate is best applied when the cow parsley is in full growth (April-May), as the more chemical you can apply to the foliage, the more effective the chemical is. Treatment after flowering is not effective.

Unfortunately, glyphosate is non-selective, killing any green plant material it comes into contact with. However, as the cow parsley is a tall-growing plant it should be possible to spray the foliage of the weed without the spray coming into contact with the grass. Alternatively, plastic sheeting can be laid over the turf whilst spraying.

Glyphosate can take 3-6 weeks to kill weeds, depending on weather conditions. It doesn’t remain in the soil so re-sowing can commence soon after the weed has died down. If the soil is to be cultivated, ensure that the weed roots are dead before digging to prevent live root sections being spread through the soil.

Inclusion of a weedkiller product does not indicate a recommendation or endorsement by the RHS. It is a list of products currently available to the home gardener.


Weedkillers for gardeners (Adobe Acrobat pdf document outlining weedkillers available to gardeners; see sections 1b and 4)


Chemicals: using a sprayer
Chemicals: using safely and effectively
Chemicals: using spot and broad-scale
Weeds: non-chemical control

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