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Poison hemlock Identification

Poison hemlock Identification

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General

Poison hemlock is a biennial plant – it typically has a two year life cycle. First year plants are low-growing and may resemble carrots. They can be distinguished by the lack of hairs on the stems along with purple-reddish blotches. Second year plants may stretch over 10 feet tall.

Poison hemlock was brought to the United States from Europe as a garden plant. It took a bit less than a few centuries for this noxious plant to populate the North American continent. Just another case of poor thoughts and dire consequences.

Common Names

poison parsley, spotted corobane, carrot fern, devil’s bread and devil’s porridge

Description

Poison hemlock stems are hollow and hairless. They are green with reddish or purple spots and streaks.

The triangular leaves are green and look like fern leaves. They are toothed on edges and have a strong musty odor when crushed.

Flowers grow on second year plants. They have 5 petals that are tiny and white – approximately 2 to 3 inches across. They are arranged in small, umbrella-shaped clusters on ends of branched stems – much like Queen Anne’s lace. Flowers are followed by green ridged seed cases that turn brown as the seeds mature.

Range and Habitat

As the map shows, poison-hemlock grows throughout the United States.

It likes sunlight and grows along fence lines, in irrigation ditches, and in other moist waste places.

Poison Parts

Poison hemlock range map across North America

Poison hemlock is acutely toxic to people and animals, with symptoms appearing 20 minutes to three hours after ingestion. All parts of the plant are poisonous and even the dead canes remain toxic for up to three years. Eating the plant is the main danger, but it is also toxic to the skin and respiratory system.

The seeds and roots are toxic. Roots of poison-hemlock are poisonous and may be mistaken for wild parsnips.

Poison Effects

The typical symptoms for humans include dilation of the pupils, dizziness, and trembling followed by slowing of the heartbeat, paralysis of the central nervous system, muscle paralysis, and death due to respiratory failure

Toxic Look-alikes

Poison hemlock Flowers grow on second year plants. They have 5 petals

Water hemlock stems may have purple spots, but leaves are not lacy. Highly toxic to humans and livestock.

Giant hogweed, which can cause severe blistering and swelling when the sap contacts human or animal skin, stems may have purple spots, but its leaves are not lacy.

Queen Anne’s Lace has lacy leaves, but stem has hairs and does not have purple blotches.

Wild parsnip does not have purple spots on the stem. Wild parsnip can cause severe blistering and swelling when the sap contacts human or animal skin.

Interesting Facts

Socrates is the most famous victim of hemlock poisoning

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USDA plant guide

Burdock Plant wild edible

Burdock Plant Wild Edible

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Burdock General Comments

Burdock plant wild edible, a member of the aster family, is a native plant to Europe and Northern Asia. It was brought into North America by colonists and is now widespread throughout the United States. Like the dandelion, it is an invasive species that competes with native plants.

Burdock plant stems, leaves and root picture

Burdock is a biennial. In its first year it has no large central stem or flowers. It grows only as a basal of rosette leaves that stay close to the ground.

The burdock plant contains minerals and vitamins. This should be considered an important year-round forage plant since most parts can be eaten and different parts can harvested year-round.

Common Names

Common Burdock, Gobo, bur weed, clotburbeggar’s buttons

Description

burdock plant in mid-summer

Burdock is a tall, about 3’ – 7’ in height, weed with burrs that stick to clothing. The basal rosette of leaves stays close to the ground the first year and the beginning of the second. These basal rosettes can grow over 3 feet wide.

The plant has purple flowers on tips of a prickly ball of bracts (Velcro like) on long stalks that bloom between June and October. Flower heads are ½” – 1 ½” across.

The lower leaves are broad and lightly lobed and can grow almost 2’ long and about half as wide – as a comparison, they are somewhat rhubarb like. They are dark green and egg shaped.   

Location

Burdock, like many such plants, thrive along riverbanks, disturbed habitats, roadsides, edges of forest, vacant lots, and fields. Except for the southern areas, it grows throughout North America.



Edible

Leaf stems can be peeled and cooked by boiling for about 20 minutes.

Young leaves can be boiled or steamed and eaten like spinach.

Roots should be scrubbed to remove the skin. Chop off and discard the top few inches of root, which can be tough. The root should be boiled until tender.

Immature flower stalks may be eaten raw or boiled, their taste resembles that of artichoke.

Harvest

Immature flower stalks may be harvested in late spring before flowers appear.

The root can be rather long (up to 3’). The best parts are fragile. Dig carefully.  

Leaves and stems are best when picked young.

Grow Your Own

Burdock plant territory map of locations in North America

Sow seeds directly outdoors in spring as soon as the soil can be worked and when the danger of frost is over. Cover the seeds with light soil and lightly tamp down. Because it is a biennial, the first year growth only forms a cluster of large leaves. The large leaves grow from a long tap root that can grow over two feet down. In year 2 a branched stalk with smaller leaves will grow out of the plant and, in the late summer, purple-pink flowers will form. In autumn, these flowers are replaced by round brown burrs that persist into the winter.

Notes of Interest

Cultivated in China, Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, Philippines, New Zealand, the United States, Canada and in various countries in Europe as a vegetable.

The inspiration for Velcro came from the burdock bur. The inventor, a Swiss electrical engineer named Georges de Mestral, was walking along one day in the mountains and saw burs sticking on his wool socks and his dog’s fur.

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