What is hemlock? | Gardening On

Hemlock is a very poisonous herb

Image – Wikimedia Commons / Nicolas Ramirez

Hemlock is one of the most dangerous plants that exist for humans. So much so that due to its poison for a long time it was used to assassinate governors and other equally classic characters, such as Socrates.

Although it belongs to the apiaceae family, and therefore shares genes and therefore also characteristics with onion or garlic, we don’t have to be fooled by its appearance.

What is hemlock?

Hemlock is a poisonHemlock is a poison

Image – Flickr / brewbooks

Hemlock is a herb whose scientific name is Conium maculatum. During its first year of life it germinates and grows, but in the second it flowers, produces seeds and finally dies. It is, therefore, a biennial herb (bi = two and annual = year), whose main characteristic is that of develop a hollow stem from which compound leaves sprout by three pinnae or leaflets.

All of it is green, except its flowers which are grouped in inflorescences called umbels of 10-15 centimeters in diameter which are white. The fruit is an achene of light green color, rounded or oval, that contains blackish seeds of small size.

It reaches a height of between 1,5 and 2,5 meters, and gives off a very unpleasant odor. In fact, it is said that he can even cause nausea just by breaking or scrubbing it.

Another drawback is that it grows wild in Europe and North Africa, and has also become naturalized in America (both North and South), Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. In short, it is quite easy to find it, especially if we go to rivers or other humid areas with a cool environment.

What is hemlock poison like?

This is a plant that has different alkaloids derived from piperidine, such as cicutin, conhydrin or coniin. The latter is the most toxic of them all, since in low or medium doses it adversely affects the central nervous system, and when the dose is high enough it can cause death by paralysis of the respiratory musclesboth in humans and in animals such as livestock.

Although it should never, under any circumstances, be consumed, it must be taken into account that for an adult a dose greater than 0,1 grams of coniin, which is the dose that contains 6-8 fresh leaves of the plant, can be fatal .

What Causes Hemlock?

Hemlock is a herbaceous plant

Hemlock is a herbaceous plant

The main symptoms are the following:

  • Salivation
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Intestinal pain
  • Throat irritation (in the pharynx)
  • High rise
  • Swallowing problems
  • Dilated pupils
  • Difficulty speaking

But the affected person may have others, which are:

  • Vision and hearing disorders
  • Leg weakness
  • Tremors
  • Involuntary movements
  • Lethargy

And in very serious cases, then the entire system fails, and the person dies from suffocation as their respiratory muscles become paralyzed.

Hemlock in flowerhemlock in bloom

Related article:

Why You Shouldn’t Grow Hemlock

What is the treatment?

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment to effectively stop coniin. What is done is empty the stomach and give the affected person activated charcoal. This is a substance that is widely used in cases of poisoning by oral ingestion, both in people and animals, since it absorbs the poison quickly thanks to its high porosity.

Other complementary treatments are forced diuresis, ventilation and oxygen therapy. That is, what is done is to try to alleviate the symptoms and make sure that the person receives oxygen. The problem is that in order for you to recover, you need to receive medical attention as quickly as possible.

Does hemlock have any use?

After all that we have talked about, you might well think that it is a plant that should not only be prohibited but should not exist. Reasons are not lacking: it is a very powerful poison, but in the right hands (that is, a healthcare professional) it can be useful.

As with these types of plants, in controlled doses it can be used to treat serious problems and symptoms, such as epilepsy, whooping cough, syphilis, or severe pain such as cancer.

We insist: they should not be consumed without first consulting an expert. We have already seen that with only a dose of 0,1 grams we can have many, many and very serious problems.

How exactly did Socrates die?

Socrates was a philosopher who died of hemlock poisoningSocrates was a philosopher who died from hemlock poisoning

Image – Wikimedia Commons

At the beginning of the article we mentioned that Socrates died of hemlock poisoning. And it is one of the best known cases. But what actually happened? Who wanted to assassinate the philosopher?

Well, to answer that question we have to go over history a bit. Socrates was born in the year 469/470 BC. C. He was always very interested in learning music, grammar, and even gymnastics. But also soon he would do something that was not frowned upon: criticize the imposed truth.

Such was his “rebellion” that at age 70 he was accused of denying the gods and corrupting the young. For this reason, he was sentenced to die by drinking hemlock extract. For this reason, we know that Socrates did not die accidentally, but was assassinated because thinking differently in his time was prohibited.

I hope this article has helped you to learn more about the hemlock.

What is hemlock? | Gardening On

Leave a Reply

Scroll to top
%d bloggers like this: