Q: A friend told me to season my salad dressing with hemlock oil; I am suspicious and a little apprehesive about using anything i don’t know about and it tastes really bad!! Does anyone have any info on this herb or oil i should say could it be dangerous?
A: Your friend is probably referring to hemlock spruce, the tree, not hemlock the plant. The latter is quite poisonous.
Q: poisonous? how so? as in deadly or you just get really sick and how can you tell the difference? If deadly how do you die? I am really desperate for any info on this…it is more important than it seems; thanks.
A: If you are referring to poison hemlock (Conium maculatum ), the plant contains the alkaloids coniine and gamma-conicine which can cause symptoms of nervousness, trembling, incoordination, depression, staggering, gastrointestinal irritation coldness of the extremities, slow heartbeat and eventually coma and death. Symptoms generally start within a couple of hours of ingestion. The entire palnt is poisonous, but the toxicity within parts of the plant tend to change with the time of year. The leaves being more poisonous in the spring, and the seeds more so in the fall. Human poisonings are generally due to mistaking hte plant for edible or medicinal plants such as wild carrot, parsnip. or anise. It is quite common out west, I run across it a lot when I am collecting herbs.
There is also a water hemlock (Cicuta maculata) which contains an alkaloid, primarily in the roots, which causes convulsions.
The other hemlock is a tree in which hemlock essential oil can be produced. I do not know off hand what the toxicity of this oil is, though I believe it is not very toxic.