The Poisonous Path: Poison Hemlock
The passage into spring brings with it an awakening of urges thought buried below the winter snow. Like bud and leaf, our desires slip through and to the surface, standing in new light and shadow. The Earth begins to make its way back towards the Sol of our system, and our hearts become more aware each time. These cycles, these desires, and these urges are as instinctual as our souls. Written in stars and on hearts, we find ourselves familiarly inclined to act out anew.
Poison Hemlock: Conium maculatum
Conium maculatum, more commonly known as Poison Hemlock, can be found across almost every state and grows best in water-rich soil within shaded ranges. This all-too-toxic plant was brought over to the United States from Europe during the 1800s as a garden plant. Poison Hemlock was rebranded with the name “Winter Fern," and from then on it quickly invaded the Americas. An all too familiar story. Since then, Poison Hemlock has naturalized in almost every state, with Florida, Mississippi, and Hawaii being the exceptions.
Native to Europe, Poison Hemlock is well accounted for in human history. In early Greek literature, the famous philosopher Socrates was condemned to take of Hemlock until death. Socrates was convicted of corrupting the youth of Athens with tales of disturbingly unfamiliar gods. During the 10th century, The Anglo Saxons made note of this plant for its medicinal value and gave a name to it. Rooted in the words “Hem,” meaning border or shore, and “Leac,” meaning leak or plant. Closer to modern times, Baron Anton von Stoerck of Vienna in 1760 relied on this plant time and time again for its sedative and anti-convulsant herbal actions.
Every part of this plant can be harvested for medicinal use, but especially at the end of June when the leaves and fruit are considered young and fresh. Traditional western medicine and herbalists alike know Poison Hemlock for its effects as an anticonvulsant, a sedative, and surprisingly, as an antidote for other kinds of poisonings. The use of which should always be handled with great caution as the therapeutic dosage is known to be quite small.
Please note that anyone who may try to recreate or administer Poison Hemlock is ill-advised and should not do so without the supervision of a qualified clinical herbalist, or more preferably, under the care of a naturopathic physician. From A Modern Herbal, Margaret Grieve’s writes, "a traditional remedy from the conventional wisdom of the early 1900s calls for 1-3 grains of powdered leaf when creating capsules, and 5 to 10 drops diluted in 8 oz of water when creating extract." Whenever a plant substance is reduced down to drops or grains, be sure to consult a practitioner. The unheeded warnings of which yield consequences you the reader may end up paying for with your life.
Today, not many herbalists work with poisonous plants like this. Due to world trade, we no longer rely on what is only available to us locally. A privilege so often misunderstood and ignored in today's world of medicine. The fact is there are hundreds, if not thousands, of alternatives in herbal medicine, from all over the world. But should you choose to work with the poisonous path, make sure you have the skills, equipment, and authority to do so. Playing with poison will burn through a person’s system faster than fire.
The actual poisoning of Poison Hemlock takes place in the neuromuscular junction, the connection responsible for sending impulses from your nerves to your muscles. This in turn can cause your breathing muscles to fail, halting ventilation and causing suffocation. Back in the early 1900s, a root doctor may have considered Poison Hemlock If a client complained of severe muscle pain, but nowadays we have herbs like California Poppy, Kava Kava Root, Blue Vervain, and Cramp Bark that will all yield muscle relaxation through much safer herbal actions.
For muscle pains, an Herbalist should look towards nervines, nervine sedatives, nutritive herbs high in calcium, vitamin D3, and magnesium, and muscle-relaxing herbs. Although be careful with that last one, as analgesics that cause muscle relaxation should not be used regularly in my opinion. Especially not before driving or work, as they may reduce your reactivity and response time via the neuromuscular junctions.
Thank you to all of my readers for walking the poisonous path with me for the last year and four months. This will be the last of my entries for The Poisonous Path for the foreseeable future. I will be working on two new blogs, one you may have already read: Guided Stillness, a blog on meditation, mindfulness, and nervous system regulation. And another that will be published with The Herb Shoppe in May of 2023: Herbal Neurotransmitters, a blog about herbs that promote and alter the way our nervous system interacts with neurotransmitter chemicals. Remain curious about the plants that surround you on your path, you would be surprised by how many poisonous plants there are to be admired.
- Reeves, Kelly and Southern Colorado Plateau Network Inventory and Monitoring Program. “Exotic Species: Poison Hemlock (U.S. National Park Service).” nps.gov, 2004, www.nps.gov/articles/poison-hemlock.htm. Accessed 28 Feb. 2023.
- RxList. “Hemlock: Health Benefits, Side Effects, Uses, Dose and Precautions.” RxList.com, 11 June 2021, www.rxlist.com/hemlock/supplements.htm. Accessed 28 Feb. 2023.
- 3. Grieve. “A Modern Herbal | Hemlock.” Botanical.com, www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/h/hemloc18.html. Accessed 28 Feb. 2023.
- 4. Cleveland Clinic Medical Professional. “Hemlock Poisoning: Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention.” Cleveland Clinic, 8 Sept. 2022, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/24122-poison-hemlock. Accessed 28 Feb. 2023.
- Therapeutic Research Faculty. “HEMLOCK: Overview, Uses, Side Effects, Precautions, Interactions, Dosing and Reviews.” Webmd.com, 2020, www.webmd.com/vitamins/ai/ingredientmono-949/hemlock. Accessed 28 Feb. 2023.
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