Hemlock: You Won’t Be Camping For Long

Many of us are dusting off our camping gear for another season of fun in the sun. Weekends spent roughing it in the great outdoors will make treasured family memories, and most of the will be good ones. But before you venture into the wild to have the kids trek over the river and through the woods, it is important that you learn what plants are safe to touch, and which plants should be avoided at all costs. One of the plants which should be avoided is poison hemlock.


Poison hemlock has a long and complicated history. In Ancient Greece during the time of the philospher, Socrates, this poisonous plant was used to put people to death. Hemlock plays a vital role in the Shakespeare play, Hamlet. Hamlet’s father was poisoned by having hemlock dripped into his ear while he slept. Even today there is a group of people known as “the Hemlock Society” who are advocates for human’s right to physician-assisted suicide. This herbaceous plant is highly toxic to people and animals and even a very small amount can kill them.


Poison hemlock is indigenous to many parts of Europe, Asia, and South Africa, though it has been introduced to parts of North America and has spread fairly well across regions of the United States. It is a member of the Parsley family, and resembles parsley in it’s delicate, leafy foliage. It contains mottled purple flowers at certain times of the year. It is a powerful neurotoxin and even a small amount ingested can lead to respiratory arrest and death within a matter of just a few minutes.

Before you have your kids pick a wildflower bouquet to bring back to camp, be sure to identify any possibly poisonous plants. Poison hemlock is a particularly deadly plant which can shut down your respiratory system in a matter of a few minutes. Being poisoned to death by hemlock would certainly put a damper on the rest of your summer outdoor adventures and would most likely NOT be one of the cherished family memories worth creating.

This article is part of the Poisonous Plants series.