Water Hemlock - (Cicuta maculata)


Common Name: Water Hemlock
Scientific Name: Cicuta maculata
Family: Parsley (Apiaceae)
Other Common Names: Spotted Cowbane, Poison-Hemlock, Beaver-Poison, False-Parsley, Snakeroot, Cowbane, carotte de Moreau
Flower Color: White
Habitat: Wet, low meadows and swamps
General Bloom Dates: June - Sept

General Characteristics:
Small white flowers in a loose umbel, often spreading out 2-4 inches wide. The stems are smooth, stout and streaked or mottled with purple. The leaves are compounds of two or three, coarsely toothed with a reddish tinge. This plant is often mistaken for Wild Parsnip. All parts of this plant are deadly poisonous. Grows to a height of 3-6 feet.

Plant Lore:
A violently poisonous plant. Most Native American groups knew of the poison in this plant would deliberately avoid it, unless they were seeking suicide, which the plant would accomplish swiftly. Death by Water Hemlock is very violent, and painful. The body enters extreme spasms and convulsions followed by excessive salivation, tremors, nausea and delirium. The main toxin is Alkaloid Cicutoxin which attacks the central nervous system approximately 15-20 minutes after the plant is eaten. Without immediate, aggressive treatment, fatality is most certain. The voyagers called it "carotte de Moreau" after a man who died from eating it. Many cases of human death are on record attributed to simply tasting this plant in the United States. Do not mistake it for Queen Anne's Lace or Wild Parsnip, which are very similar in appearance. If there is a doubt, abstinence is the best practice.
The name Beaver-Poison comes from observations of beavers dying shortly after consuming the plant. Snakeroot and Cowbane are also names associated with the highly toxic character of this plant.

Modern Uses of this Plant:
This is not the plant that was taken by Socrates in his death. That plant was the closely related Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum), which is less violent but still deadly. Care should be taken in collecting any of the plants in the wild parsley family. Some are edible, but like the Water Hemlock, some are considered very dangerous. Many in the medical profession believe this plant is the most deadly and toxic of all the wild plants in North America.