Conium Maculatum

Conium maculatum or more commonly known as Hemlock, black and white plate

An unassuming plant which is common across Europe growing in parks and along highways. Although not particularly noteworthy in look, its history is long and its neurotoxicity is even higher. Socrates after being convicted of corrupting youth chose to drink a tincture of hemlock to bring about his demise and prisoners condemned to death were administered the plant. A part of the Apiaceae or Umbelliferae family, it shares kinder and tastier relatives such as the carrot, parsley and parsnip.

Conium maculatum, colour plate

Tellingly, in The Big, Bad Book of Botany Michael Largo notes that one of its regional nicknames is break-your-mother’s-heart. (1) The perfect title to warn children to keep away. Largo also writes that Conium comes from the Greek konas, meaning “vertigo” or “whirl”—both symptoms of the plant’s intoxicating poison. Next to this, its roots and greens have a urine-like scent when disturbed or ruptured. It is a plant that comes with many warning labels if you know how to read them.

(1) Largo, Michael. The Big, Bad Book of Botany (p. 163). William Morrow Paperbacks.