[nafex] Hemlock ... not to drink ... or to drink ... not

Lucky Pittman Lucky.Pittman at murraystate.edu
Tue May 8 14:34:32 EDT 2001


At 09:14 PM 05/07/2001 -0400, Joelwrote:
>I received an inquiry beyond my scope of knowledge of
>plants.
>The great scholars of ancient Greece talk about the use of
>hemlock as a *poison* potion.
>Question: what part(s) of the plant are used and how is the
>potion prepared?
Joel,
I went back and dug out my old poisonous plant notes from vet school.

Poison Hemlock - Conium maculatum - toxic principles are alkaloids & 
resinoids: coniine and coniceine and others.       In addition to the 
classical toxicity, it also produces teratogenic effects in developing fetus.
Stems, leaves, and mature fruits are toxic. Leaves are more dangerous in 
the springtime, and the fruits are most dangerous in the fall.  Roots 
contain lowest level of toxins.
Clinical signs: excessive salivation, nervousness, partial to total 
paralysis of hind limbs; staggers, dilation of eye, slow respiration and 
pulse - then rapid increase, coldness of extremities, coma and eventual 
death due to respiratory paralysis.  "Mousy" odor detectable in 
rumen/stomach contents and urine.
Symptoms occur rapidly - within 12 minutes to one hour of consumption.

Water Hemlock - Cicuta maculata - very poisonous alkaloids & resinoids 
(cicutoxin) found in all parts of plant, primarily in the roots. Piece of 
root the size of a hickory nut(they don't distinguish whether shagbark or 
shellbark!) is sufficient to kill an adult cow.  Young shoots of plant are 
toxic, but toxicity diminished over the course of the growing 
season.  Toxicity seen most commonly in spring, when cattle may pull up 
freshly-sprouting plants by the roots and eat the early-vegetating(and most 
toxic) parts.
Clinical signs appear within 15 min to one hour after 
consumption.  Excessive salivation, followed by intermittent episodes of 
convulsions.  Opisthotonos with 'running fits', bruxism(grinding of teeth), 
abdominal pain/colic, pupils dilated, nausea, bloat, death can occur in 15 
minutes.  Root pieces in stomach smell like carrot/celery.
Louis L. "Lucky" Pittman, Jr., DVM
Veterinary Pathologist/Asst. Prof.
Murray St. Univ.-Breathitt Veterinary Ctr.
Hopkinsville, KY


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