“To fear death, my friends, is only to think ourselves wise, without being wise…”

The title of the post makes this sound like a really serious post, doesn’t it? Not so much.

That’s a quote from Socrates. Remember Socrates? He was executed by being forced to drink poison hemlock.

And I just discovered, through research and examination, that the tall weedy thing in my front yard–the odd ferny thing that nonetheless was sort of attractive–appears to actually be a poison hemlock plant.

It’s very pretty, actually–and the reason for my research was that I thought it might be an edible wild carrot, otherwise known as Queen Anne’s Lace. You know Queen Anne’s Lace, right? Those pretty white umbrella-flowers you see in fields all the time? Well, they are biennial plants, and the second year they produce this deep edible taproot, the ancestor of our “domestic” edible carrot. (Although the seeds have been used time out of mind by women in need of emergency contraception–so edible or not, if you ever did try eating wild carrot, I’d recommend making sure you’re not pregnant when you do so! In fact, I wouldn’t recommend eating them at all without doing a pretty good bit of research!) They have a hollow juicy stem, that’s a little hairy.

A couple of hemlock varieties look amazingly like Queen Anne’s Lace/wild carrot, though–biennial, pretty white flowers, hollow stem, ferny foliage, big fleshy root–enough so that edible plant sites are full of warnings regarding how to tell the difference. While carrot has that slightly fuzzy green stem, hemlock has a smooth stem with purple blotches.  And the leaves supposedly have a musty smell when you squish them.

Mine definitely fall into the latter category, except for the leaves, which I didn’t check. (When I cut down the stem, though, it had a very lovely sweet smell that honestly smelled like something I might want to eat…glad I know better than to trust that, though!) Smooth stems, purple blotches. So as soon as it’s cool enough I’ll go out and try to dig the sucker out.

Anyway, either plant spreads prolifically by self-seeding itself, and they can be very invasive wherever they take hold. On the other hand, the difference between a “vigorous self-spreading perennial” and an “invasive weed” is only in whether you’re happy about its presence! (I’m not sure I’d cultivate hemlock, though!)

So…live and learn. Hemlock, purple blotches on stems. Queen Anne’s Lace, hairy green stems.

And in general, dear friends, don’t eat ANYTHING you find out there unless you know exactly what it is. But you already knew that.


Posted on June 4, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. I taught a preschool class out of my home this year, and at outside play time, I let the kids pick and eat peas out of my garden. I came to find out later that one of the kids had started picking random things out of his own yard and popping them in his mouth. Woops!

  2. That is a bit scary! I wish all poisonous plants were ugly!

  3. A little creepy, isn’t it? Especially the much-known HEMLOCK, something everyone knows is poisonous but no one really seems to know (I didn’t, at least) grows by our highways and in our backyards.

    Erin, I live in terror of the exact same thing happening, and I may have gone overboard making sure my kids don’t do that and having them in terror of being poisoned. But honestly, I’m fairly comfortable with that. 🙂

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