How to Identify Hemlock Water Dropwort

People have died from eating all parts of Hemlock water dropwort.

Hemlock water dropwort is a member of the Apiaceae (Carrot) family. Which contains some very toxic plants.

It is considered the most toxic plant growing in Britain.

It contains a powerful neurotoxin called oenanthetoxin, which triggers spasmodic convulsions, usually followed by sudden death.

Height: Tall and robust up to 1.5 metre.

Leaves: 3 to 4 either oval, lobed or toothed and in the same arrangement as a feather (pinnate).

The leaf stalk (petiole) is attached to the flower stem by a sheath.

Stems: Hairless, grooved and hollow.

Flowers are clustered in distinct umbels (they look like pom-poms).

Habitat: Found around lakes, marshy ground, ponds, along the waters-edge of rivers and river banks.

Flowers: Between May and August.

Lookalikes: Parsley (Petroselinum crispum), Wild celery (Apium graveolens), Narrow leaved water-parsnip (Berula erecta) and River Water-dropwort (Oenanthe fluviatilis).

It is a tuberous perennial plant that resembles celery with roots like a bunch of large white carrots.

The highest concentration of toxic properties is in the roots. Then the stems and finally the leaves.

The toxin seems able to enter the body through the skin, so care should be exercised when handling it, particularly any sap.

Be very careful when handling the leaves as there are reports that the toxin can enter the body through the skin. Be especially careful if you get sap on you.

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  1. I saw this growing at the edge of the canal and thought it was celery. I smelt it and brought some home to id. It wilted so got thrown in the bin and I forgot about it until I saw this just now. I am so glad I did! X

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  2. Thank you for sharing this. I’m the kind of person who would’ve happily tasted this to see IF it was poisonous.

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  3. Thankyou for sharing this. It has s beautiful leaf and tempting to pick. Good to share for families out on their walks.
    Thankyou.
    May I share to our community group please?

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  4. This is really interesting. It is strange how many delicious plants and fungi have a poisonous twin …with Hemlock it seems to be triplets as this looks completely different to Hemlock per se which is finer and more feathery, it also has the round hollow stem but has the dark red blotches. They also achieve the same height but the flowers are slightly different.
    Thank you for the lovely words and poem. So true. Even now in lockdown things get hectic. Lovely to have time to sit and stare.

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  5. Really clear and helpful. There is a lot of this growing along the river Frome to the west of Dorchester, glad I know what to look out for with my grandson.

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  6. Very informative video. Pretty certain I’ve seen this lurking in some of the places I forage – will look more closely next time!

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  7. Hello thank you for the video it was most helpful. Please can I ask does hemlock have purple spots on the stalk, as I couldn’t see any on the video. Also I noticed the plant was being touched by a bare hand and it was mentioned but to touch it as the toxins can enter the skin, so I just wanted further clarification on this pls. Many thanks

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  8. Thank you, really useful. Also another request here please for a video for Hemlock. I picked a bunch of sweet cicely the other week to eat, but read that some people have confused it with hemlock. I was 99.9% sure it was sweet cicely, but since I’ve never knowingly come across hemlock I couldn’t definately say it wasn’t hemlock and I didn’t think it was worth the risk! Not much room for error with the Apiaceae! Thanks again.

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  9. I have loads of it blocking the river at the bottom of my garden. I have pulled it up over several years, is there a better more effective way of controlling it?

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