Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Liza investigates the poison HEMLOCK

Today, I'm investigating the poison HEMLOCK. The poison that Socrates drank.
When I first saw it's picture, I immediately thought of a plant in my garden that I used to allow to grow. I've been pulling it out for the last few years because instead of looking like the lovely Queen Anne Lace, it looked a bit scraggly, which I now discover is what Hemlock looks to be.

Above is Hemlock
Below is Queen Anne's Lace
Upon further research, I've discovered the two plants are often confused for one another. And people have died over the confusion. Queen Anne's Lace comes from the wild carrot family. Poison Hemlock is called conium maculatum which I believe translates to 'I want to kill your family ' plant. Do not allow Google to ID the plant for you. If you do, you will die.

So here are good identifiers for Hemlock. 
The stem has no hairs on it and the lower stem will be streaked with red or red spots.
It has a rank musty smell like parsnips. 
It's first year growth, which are just foliage, looks a lot like parsley, Queens Anne's Lace, and, so unless you remember planting parsley, or wild carrots in that precise spot, don't eat it!!!

Even experts have trouble telling the first year plants apart.  

And I'm happy to say the plant I've been ripping out, but never munching upon was Queen Anne's Lace.

So let's return to Hemlock and it's history. 
It's most famous consumer was Socrates. He was consigned to death for impiety (that's the lack of respect for something sacred). I am so glad that's no longer a fair reason in the USA to condemn someone to death, or I wouldn't be around to prevent you from dying from 'not parsley'.

So when Socrates drank this, what happened?
These symptoms are going to sound really familiar for those of you who have been following my poison articles.

Abdominal Pain
Dilated Pupils (This is NEW)
Weak Pulse
Excessive Salivating (That's new too)

The resulting 'complications' will be

Yes, serious complications indeed.

Symptoms will begin in about 15 minutes.
The antidotes are tannic acid, stimulants, & emetic of zinc. Also activated charcoal will be used to decrease gastrointestinal absorption. 

Oddly, the Greeks used Hemlock as an antidote to Strychnine poisoning. But I'll deal with that when we get to S Poisons. Medicinally, it was also used as a sedative and an antispasmodic. 

The British used dried Hemlock leaves in their medicines until 1864, when the dried fruit of the Hemlock was decided to make a better tincture.

So, in the case of Hemlock, it can be used to cure you, ease your symptoms or kill you.

And never pick up parsley or Queen Anne's Lace from the side of the road. It might kill you.


  1. What a bizarre plant name - 'I want to kill your family - even in Latin - who thought that one up!
    Great post.

  2. I'm learning so much with these poison blogs. I thought I saw some Hemlock growing near my house. Does it just grow naturally in certain areas?

    1. Yes, it does. To make matters more confusing, the plants that look like it can grow right beside it. Certain animals can eat (and then poop) the seeds without harm. So It could even show up in your garden, among your parsley. People die every year due to plant confusion. If it has non fuzzy stems and red streaks, consider it deadly.


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