Hemlock characteristics

Photo of a hemlock leaf stalk where you can see the distinctive purple spots

Scientific name: Conium maculatum L. The name comes from the Greek Koneion, which is how the Greeks called the plant and maculatum which in latin means "spotted" and refers to the spots of the stems.

Common English name: Hemlock, poison hemlock, Spotted Corobanem, Devil's Bread, Poison Parsley, Herb Bennet, spotted henbane, poisonous henbane.

Spanish: Cicuta, perejil lobuno

French: Ciguë tachetée

Catalan: Cicuta, ciguda, julivertassa

Euskara: Otzerri-belar

Italian: Cicuta

Portuguese: Cicuta, asta-perrezil, cegude,

German: Gefleckte Schierling

Dutch: gevlekte scheerling

Family: Umbelliferae

Habitat: In ruderal and nitrophilous places. Common in uncultivated cool and shady places, in the rubble, along ditches, abandoned gardens.

Native to Europe, it spread to western Asia and northern Africa, and it can be found naturalized in many regions of the world. Today, it is abundant in South America, especially in Argentina, New Zealand, India or South Africa. In the United States can be found naturalized in the Eastern States.

Hemlock description

A drawing of poison hemlock

Biennial plant belonging to the Umbelliferae family. All of it has a foul smell that has been compared to cat urine. It is also said that it smells like a mouse. The smell gets stronger when the plant is squeezed or rubbed.

The taste is slightly bitter and unpleasant. Both its smell and taste make it quite difficult to confuse this plant with parsley or other plant of the same family.

Stems more or less thick, more than 3 meters high (generally between 1 and 3 meters), cylindrical, fistulous, smooth, shrub, mainly stained in its base and branches with violet or purple spots.

Large leaves, pinnatifid lustrous pale green pointy

White flowers in terminal umbels, with 5 petals, 2-4 mm in diameter. It blooms from May to July.

The fruit is a globular diachene with five ribs.

Hemlock composition:

- Alkaloids: Gamma- coniceine, coniine, conhydrine, pseudoconhydrine (plant)

- Flavonoids: diosmin (plant)

- Acids: caffeic-acid, chlorogenic-acid, uronic-acid(plant)

- Proteins: (seeds)

- Fat: (seeds)

- Carbohydrates: Arabinose, lignin, pentosans, xylose (plant)

Active parts of hemlock

Leaves and fruits.

Color drawing of this plant
Details of the root, flower and fruit.

Uses of the hemlock

- Classic poison: In Europe, Greece and Rome, it was used as usual poison.

Native Americans used this plant to make a concoction with which they poisoned the arrows,

- In traditional medicine it has been used for the treatment of jaundice, pain, syphilis, epilepsy, tooth decay, asthma, tetanus, etc.. It is normally administered as a substitute of opium extract.

- In homeopathy, CH 9-30 remedy is made from Conium maculatum for the treatment of vertigo and dizziness.

- In official medicine it is used as an ingredient for local analgesics formulas. The pharmaceutical industry uses this plant to elaborate medicines from this plant designed to alleviate pain.

Since it is a poisonous plant, home-made products should not be taken

Toxicity of hemlock

Very high by means of ingestion. The toxicity is dependent on temperature and the soil where it grows. In hot countries the toxicity index is higher than in countries with lower temperature. There are even references in cold countries that this plant has virtually no toxicity, whereas in countries like Italy or Spain its toxicity is very high.

There are also references that in certain locations the plant has been used as food, so that some researchers believe that the cooking process could detoxify it.

There are cases of poisoning in people who have confused the leaves of this plant with parsley (Petroselinum crispum). Other times, people have confused its root with the root of the parsnip (Pastinaca sativa).

Opium mixed with hemlock was used for in Athens criminals to be executed so that death could occur without them being aware of it. Apparently it was this mixture that Socrates drank when he was sentenced to death in 399 BC

The philosopher describes how he felt the poison was acting. It depicted as his members were being paralyzing from the feet up and as he was fully aware as the paralysis occurred. His death occurred when the lungs gradually stopped working. So writes Plato in Phaedon:

"But Socrates, after walking around, now told us that his legs began to feel tired and immediately lay down. At the same time, the man who had given him the poison looked at his feet and legs, touching them at intervals. At last, he touched violently his foot, and asked him if he was feeling it. Socrates said no.

Then the man squeezed her leg and so on, showing that it was becoming cold and stiff. And Socrates, feeling the same himself, assured us that, when the effects would have amounted to his heart, he would have gone,

and now feeling half his body becoming cold, he threw aside the clothes and spoke for the last time:

- Crito, we owe the sacrifice of a cock to Asclepius.
- So be it, 'said Crito. Have anything more to say.

He did not answer, but a moment later his eyes were fixed. And Crito, seeing this, closed his eyelids and his mouth"

- In contact with the skin: hemlock may cause dermatitis in some people.

Symptoms of poisoning by hemlock

The symptoms occur within approximately half an hour after ingestion.

When doses are very low, the main symptoms are dizziness, nausea and weakness. These symptoms usually last about 12 hours or more.

When doses are higher, the main ones are: dilated pupils, sore throat, diarrhea, dizziness, muscle weakness, weak pulse and paralysis of the muscles of respiration that produces death.

Hemlock acts as a stimulant at the beginning of intoxication to become a depressant later.

Medical treatment of poisoning by hemlock

Stomach washes, ventilation, and emetics.

Is hemlock toxic to animals?

Hemlock is very toxic to all animals. According to some experts, only goats get rid of its toxicity. The poison of this plant acts quickly after one hour of ingestion, leading to death most to of them after about two or three hours after poisoning.

Among the main symptoms, they show difficulty swallowing, seizures and death by paralysis of the respiratory muscles.

Of all livestock, the animals that are more likely to become intoxicated are cows and pigs, while sheep do not notice much effect.

Poisoning usually occurs when animals eat dry hay contaminated with this herb. It is difficult for them to eat the tender plants because, given the smell and taste, they usually reject them.

Treatment is similar to that applied to humans: stomach emptying, anticonvulsants and neutralizing substances, such as tannic acid.

Related information: Hemlock photos.

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This material is for informational purposes only. In case of doubt, consult the doctor.
"Botanical" is not responsible for damages caused by self-medication.