|Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) leaves closely resemble the leaves of several edible plants.|
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I want to talk to you about a plant that I HAVEN'T eaten.
This plant is Conium maculatum, commonly known as Poison Hemlock. (Also: English or European hemlock, carrot fern, Devil's porridge, spotted hemlock, wild hemlock and poison parsley) It should probably be known as deadly hemlock, as it's one of the most dangerous wild plants you can encounter.
I have read that poison hemlock is so toxic, it has poisoned children who used the hollow stems as whistles -- simply the act of putting it to their lips and later licking them.
C. maculatum, and the closely related (and equally deadly) Water Hemlock (Cicuta species) are members of the greater Apiaceae family. The Apiaceae family is the carrot family, and provides us with many of our most important cultivated edibles, including carrots, parsley, parsnips, fennel, dill, coriander/cilantro, anise and celery. Europeans will also know the food plant "Alexanders".
Because the deadly hemlocks are so closely related to many edibles (including wild carrots/queen anne's lace, sweet cicely, cow parsley, and--more distantly, alexanders (Europe only), parsnips and fennel) they closely resemble them as well, and it's essential for any forager to completely familiarize themselves with hemlock BEFORE they attempt to eat any wild plants in the Apiaceae family.
It's a good thing for gardeners to know about this plant, as it can spring up in their garden, and will resemble carrots, parsley and celery.
But this post will help you safely identify and avoid poison hemlock.
Note: this post deals exclusively with the young, pre-flowering plant, when it is most likely to cause confusion with edible plants like carrot and parsley.