I like this plant. But it can be very poisonous, and looks like some other plants that aren’t poisonous and are edible so I thought I’d do an ID post.

Please read this post on IDing plants safely.

Hemlock, Conium maculatum, is a biennial of the Umbelliferae family. That family has a wide range of edible plants including carrot, fennel, and sweet cicely. Wild carrot and cicely in particular have leaves very similar to hemlock.

It can grow very tall (taller than me). Often you see the spent seed stalks amongst the new growth. It has feathery, fern-like leaves. There are two good ways to tell if it’s hemlock:

1. Hemlock has a distinctive smell, that to us smells ‘bad’ when crushed i.e. it’s stinky.

2. Hemlock has purple blotches on its stem (usually).

Because hemlock is so poisonous, it’s best to ID any similar looking plant two ways. Know how to recognise hemlock so you can exclude it, and know how to recognise each Umbelliferae you want to harvest i.e. don’t rely solely on looking at a plant and thinking it doesn’t have purple blotches on the stems therefore it must be edible. Go the next step and positively ID the plant you are looking at.

Young hemlock showing the stems with purple markings:

hemlock stem

Hemlock leaf:

hemlock leaf