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Hemlock - Conium maculatum

Hemlock - Conium maculatum

Main features

  • Prefers moist ground

  • Found on roadsides, waste ground and disturbed earth

  • Leaves are dark-green, fern-like, and 2-4 times pinnate

  • Stems are hollow

  • Crushed stems/leaves smell like mouse urine

  • Steam often have purple/red spots or streaks

  • Flowers arranged in white umbels

  • Fruit is brown and ridged

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Hemlock - Conium maculatum

Deadly poisonous - advanced identification

Other common names: Poison Hemlock, English Hemlock, Spotted Corobane, Devil's Parsley, Poison Parsley, Devil's Bread, Spotted Hemlock, Carrot Fern


Scientific name meaning: Conium is the Latin name given to the plant Hemlock. Maculatum is from the Latin "Maculatus", which means to make or be spotted or speckled. The species name is in reference the purple spots often found on the stems

Season Spring to Autumn

Habitat - where will I find it? Hemlock prefers a moist environment, but can be found on drier soils. It is common on roadsides, in ditches, and disturbed ground

Description - what does it look like? Hemlock is hairless growing to 1-2.5m. It has dark-green pinnate leaves (2-4 times) that resemble the leaves of a fern. They have an overall triangular shape and are lacy in appearance.

The stems are hollow and often have purple/red spots/streaks on them. 

When crushed, the leaves/stems have a foul odour resembling mouse urine. 

The flowers are arranged in white umbels and followed by ridged, brown fruit containing the seeds

Possible lookalikes Looks like several members of the carrot family, including edible members. Similar looking edible members, such as Wild Carrot and Cow Parsley, are therefore advanced foraging plants

Poisonous parts All parts of the plant contain poisonous alkaloids that can be fatal. Poisoning symptoms include paralysis and loss of sensation, rhabdomyolysis, acute tubular necrosis, renal failure, and death 

Use in herbal medicine Despite its deadly toxicity, Hemlock has been used to treat respiratory disorders, pain, and strychnine poisoning

This plant is a deadly poisonous - do not consume
If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner

Other uses Has been used as the method of delivery of a death sentence

Hazards This plant is deadly poisonous

Importance to other species The larvae of the Silver Ground Carpet Moth and Poison Hemlock Moth both consume Hemlock leaves

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!

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