This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
1. Hemlock (Conium maculatum, L.). 2. Cow-parsnip (Heracleum Sphondylium, L.). 3. Hedge Parsley (Caucalis Anthriscus, Huds.). 4. Dogwood (Cornus sanguined, L.). 5 Moschatel (Adoxa Moschatellina, L.). 6. Elder (Sambucus nigra, L.).
It is attacked by two microscopic fungi, Puccinia bullata and Plasmopora nivea.
The moths the Sword-grass (Calocampa exoleta), Depressaria alstrcemeriana feed on Hemlock.
Conium, Theophrastus, is from the Greek for hemlock. The second Latin name indicates the spotted stem. It is called Bad Man's Oatmeal, Herb Bennet, Bunk, Cambuck, Caxes, Heck-how, Hemlock, Humlock, Humly, Heck, Kex, Kelk, Kous, Keish, Kewse, St. Bennet's Herb, Wode Whistle. Cambuck is a name for the dry stalks.
" Some horses were of the brume cow frainit, And some of the green bay tree, But mine was made of a hemlock schaw, And a stout stallion was he."
Shakespeare speaks of the root of the Hemlock, " digged i' the dark ", in connection with witches and witchcraft. In the Masque of Queens Ben Jonson speaks of it as a baleful draught.
It is poisonous, and was lately included in the British Pharmacopoeia. Sheep are said to eat it, but cattle refuse it; when in the dry seasons they are driven to taste it they exhibit symptoms of madness. According to an old botanical writer, Ray, who did much to establish botany as a science in this country, the thrush feeds on the seeds.
Its action is like that of an opiate and narcotic, used for deadening pain and assisting suppuration. It was regarded as beneficial in cases of scrofula and cancer. A bitter, acrid juice is derived from the stem, and it is harsh to the taste.
It has the effect of causing giddiness, nausea, headache in some, though it has the opposite effect on others, just as tobacco has. Or, as Lucretius says:
" Pinguescere scepe Cicuta Barbigeros pecudes hominiquce est acre venenum " " what is one man's meat is another man's poison ", in other words.
Essential Specific Characters: 124. Conium maculatum, L. - Stem tall, erect, branched, spotted, smooth, hollow, leaves large, smooth, pinnate, flowers white, in unilateral partial involucre, with bracts below, carpels ribbed.