Poison hemlock, fool’s parsley
Parsley (Apiaceae) Family
Description: The poison hemlock plant (also known as Beaver Poison, Herb Bennet, Musquash Root, Poison Parsley, Spotted Corobane, and Spotted Hemlock) is a biennial herb that may grow to 2.5 meters (8 feet) high. The smooth, hollow green stem may or may not be purple or red striped or mottled. Its leaves are finely divided and lacy, overall triangular in shape and grow up to 50 centimeters (20 inches) long by 40 centimeters (16 inches) wide. Its multiple, white, clustered flowers are small and grow in small groups that tend to form flat umbels. Its long, turniplike taproot is solid. When crushed, the leaves emit a rank, unpleasant odor compared to that of parsnips.
This plant is very poisonous, and even a very small amount may cause death. This plant is easy to confuse with wild carrot or Queen Anne’s lace, especially in its first stage of growth. Wild carrot or Queen Anne’s lace has hairy leaves and stems and smells like carrot. Poison hemlock does not.
The poison is a neurotoxin which disrupts the central nervous system. Ingestion in any amount can lead to respiratory collapse and death. Death can be prevented by artificial respiration until the effects of the toxic compounds have worn off 48-72 hours later.
Habitat and Distribution: Poison hemlock grows in wet or moist poorly drained ground like swamps, wet meadows, stream banks, and ditches. It also appears on roadsides, edges of cultivated fields, and waste areas. Native to Eurasia, it has been introduced to the United States and Canada.
Other Uses: Ancient civilizations used small amounts of Poison Hemlock for medicinal purposes. The practice was very dangerous though as even small amounts can kill a person.