Poison Hemlock has been spreading rapidly throughout the country. Cases of hospitalizations from Poison Hemlock have been rising as well. Leaving many people wondering what they need to know about this poisonous weed. How do you identify it? How bad is it actually? And why are people eating it in the first place?
Poison Hemlock is technically an herb that can grow up to 8 feet tall. They have long, hollow stems with purple spot or streaks. They are also identified by their small fern-like leaves and a crown of small white flowers. Although this plant is most often found in the Eastern United States it has been making its way West across the country.
Often Confused with Wild Carrot
Poison Hemlock can often be mistaken for wild carrot. This unfortunately leads to some people mistakenly harvesting and ingesting Poison Hemlock. So, it’s important to know how to tell these plants apart.
During its first year, the main distinction is that Poison Hemlock doesn’t have the tiny hairs on its stem like Wild Carrots do. As Poison Hemlock gets into its second year it becomes easier to tell the two apart. At this stage Poison Hemlock is differentiated by its many groupings of small, white flowers in contrast to Wild Carrots single grouping of flowers.
Like other poisonous plants, Poison Hemlock can leave those who come into contact with it a nasty rash. Although these itchy, painful rashes can put a damper on our weekend plans, this isn’t the main concern when dealing with Poison Hemlock.
Poison Hemlock can also cause respiratory problems, especially for those with Asthma or other respiratory issues. Children or susceptible adults may find themselves outside surrounded by Poison Hemlock without realizing it. They may not know they are breathing in fumes from this poisonous plant until symptoms start to arise.
Poison Hemlock is one of the most toxic plants found in the United States. In fact, it was used by Native American’s as a means of suicide. The main threat to humans come from ingesting or otherwise allowing its poison into our body. That means cuts while working with this plant can also turn deadly.
If you do come into contact with Poison Hemlock, it is important to respond quickly. The appropriate response depends on what type of contact it was.
Symptoms from Poison Hemlock develop quickly, as soon as 20 minutes after exposure and include:
- Large Welts
- Burning Pain
If you develop a rash it is time to start treating it to make sure you don’t spread it to other parts of your body or others. Even if you don’t have a rash, but were in an area with Poison Hemlock, you may want to take some of the same precautions.
- Wash your body thoroughly. Focus on any skin that was exposed and scrub under your fingernails to remove any hidden residue.
- Take an antihistamine like Benadryl to reduce itching.
- Apply calamine lotion or a wet compress to reduce swelling, itching, and possible blisters.
If you develop more severe symptoms or believe that you inhaled fumes from this plant or accidentally ingested any part of it, you should seek immediate medical care.
Symptoms of inhalation or ingestion of Poison Hemlock are much more severe than the uncomfortable rash symptoms associated with touching these plants. These symptoms include:
- Muscle Weakness
- Loss of Speech
- Dilated Pupils
- Loss of Consciousness
- Altered Heart Rate
If left untreated complications can arise including respiratory failure, central nervous system depression, acute renal failure, and even death.
There is no antidote currently available to counteract this toxic plant. Rather, medical professionals will fight to treat the symptoms you have while working to stabilize you.
The best way to prevent issues arising from Poison Hemlock is to know how to identify the plant and keep your yard free from this invasive weed. However, you should never cut down large sections of the plant, leave any remaining roots, or burn them. All of this can cause these plants to spread or release fumes into the air which may make you or others sick.
Considering the health implications of improperly handling this plant it is best to hire someone who knows how to identify, safely remove, and dispose of this plant.