From the book Common Poisonous Plants and Mushroom of North America by Nancy J. Turner and Adam F. Szczawinski comes a very interesting story. “In April 1980, a five-year-old child was fatally poisoned in Victoria, British Columbia from eating Poison Hemlock while at play with her sisters. Her babysitter was not even aware that she had eaten the plant. The little girl felt sick and would not eat. She laid down, and within an hour fell into a deep coma. It was only at this point that her sisters recalled that earlier she had eaten a plant. She was rushed to the hospital, but despite all efforts to save her life, she died six days later” (Szczawinski, Turner, xi). Poison Hemlock is just one of the thousands of plants that are poisonous to humans as well as animals. In addition, the plants Jimsonweed and Deadly Nightshade can also have extremely harmful effects on humans. All three of these poisonous plants can turn up anywhere from hiking trails to backyards to fields, so therefore it is important to be able to identify them and understand how deadly they potentially can be.
In order to prevent what happened in the story at the beginning, let’s look more closely at Poison Hemlock (Conium Maculatum). When mature, this carrot-like plant can get up to six feet or greater in height with triangular, fern-like leaves (Szczawinski, Turner, 129). The plant possesses white flowers, which are grouped in numerous umbrella-like clusters. Small, grayish brown, and flat with five curvy ridges running lengthwise describe the fruit of Poison Hemlock. However, beware of ever crushing or even touching this plant because a strong mouse odor will be emitted.
Originally from Europe, Poison Hemlock is now an obnoxious weed that can be found in pastures, roadsides, and even gardens across southern Canada and mostly northern United States (Szczawinski, Turner, 129). What does Poison Hemlock contain that makes it toxic? It contains the alkaloids: coiine, N-methyl coniine, conhydrine, g-coniceine, and pseudoconhydrine (Fagerstrom, Lampe, 113). These alkaloids are distributed in various amounts throughout the plant but the combined action of them is close to nicotine.
The common mistakes people make with this plant is thinking that the fine leaves are parsley or the seeds are anise. Symptoms of the victims that eat the plant include: nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache, rapid or irregular heartbeat, convulsions, and even a coma (Szczawinski, Turner 130). Death can occur, but is rare because not enough of the plant is consumed since it has such a horrible taste. A form of treatment is the administration of stimulants and activated charcoal, which is capable of absorbing the toxic alkaloids (Burrows, Tyrl, 57). Back in 399 B.C., the Greek philosopher Socrates was killed by a Poison Hemlock drink that was forced upon him (Szczawinski, Turner, 130).
An annual weed that has been misused in herbal medicine and...