Water Hemlock, Aqua Mose, Silkeborg
Cicuta virosa /Cowbane/Northern Water Hemlock is native to Northern and Central Europe, Northern Asia and Northwestern North America.It is a perenniel herbaceous plant which grows up to 1–2 m tall. The stems are smooth, branching, swollen at the base, purple-striped, and hollow except for partitions at the junction of the leaves and stem. In cross section the stems have one flat side and the other sides are rounded. The leaves are alternate, tripinnate, only coarsely toothed, unlike the ferny, lacy leaves found in many other members of the family apiaceae. The flowers are small, white and clustered in umbrella shaped inflorescences typical of the family.
The poisonous qualities of these plants have long been known. In ancient Greece, the philosopher Socrates died in 399 BCE after drinking a potent solution of poison hemlock, which was favoured by his countrymen as a “humane” method of execution.
The “bane” in cowbane comes from the Anglo-Saxon word bana, meaning “murderer ” or “destroyer.” This and other old English names like fleabane, dogbane, and baneberry reflect the creatures that it was thought would be killed or repelled by the plants.
Aqua Mose, Silkeborg
Warning: Cowbane or Water Hemlock grows in wet meadows, along streambanks and other wet and marshy areas. The whole plant and especially its fruits have an almost cellery-like smell and a parsley-taste caused by the contents of etheric oil, which increases the danger of fatal mistakes, some say the liquid has a rank smell resembling that of parsnips, carrots or mice. The plant may be mistaken for parsnip due to its clusters of white tuberousroots. The rhizome's sweetisch taste has been reason for a confusion with cellery or Hamburg parsley. Immature plants often resemble the familiar garden plants. It is the most poisonous flowering plant in the Danish flora and it has to be handled with care. Knives and alike, which have been used to cut the plant, have to be cleansed, and you'll have to wash if you have touched it.
The plant is still poisonous after drying.
In humans, cicutoxin rapidly produces symptoms of nausea,emesis and abdominal pain,typically within 60 minutes of ingestion. A single bite of the root (which has the highest concentration of cicutoxin) can be sufficient to cause death. In animals the toxic dose and the lethal dose are nearly the same. One gram of water hemlock per kilogram of weight will kill a sheep and 230 grams is sufficient to kill a horse. Due to the rapid onset of symptoms, treatment is usually unsuccessful.
NB: Accidental consumption by livestock, by children who are attracted by the flowers, or by adults who mistake poison hemlock or water hemlock for caraway, which it resembles. It pays to take care in identifying the edible members of this plant family. If you are in any doubt, bruise the plant in question; water hemlock will give off a strong, unpleasant odour said to be like that of mice. The plants are more likely to be fatal for children than adults.
Water Hemlock, Aqua Mose, Silkeborg August 2009: grethe bachmann