Poison hemlock easily mistaken for edible plants
By Cookson Beecher
SEDRO-WOOLLEY, Wash. — In the form of a beguiling, tall stranger, death lurked in my garden last year.
This spring, it reappeared, but this time much closer to the house.
I only discovered its identity when, by chance, I bumped into a photo of this stranger while reading some news about the Pacific Northwest on the Internet. Accompanying the photo was a story about how in Washington State it was the suspect in one death and the known culprit in a near-death incident that sent another victim to the emergency room.
The photo was of a fernlike plant with features that could be mistaken for a wild carrot, parsnip, or even parsley. But this was none other than poison hemlock, a cousin to the water hemlock, which was served in a tea to political prisoners in Greece as an early form of capital punishment. No less a prisoner than Socrates himself suffered the same fate in 399 BC, when he was tried and convicted of corrupting youth and failing to acknowledge the gods that the city of Athens had deemed to be deities. Some say his death was a suicide because he could have fled...