No. 22. Cicuta maculata.
English Name—AMERICAN HEMLOCK.
French Name—Cigue d'Amerique.
German Name—Americanische Schierling.
Officinal Names—Cicuta Americana.
Vulgar Names—Snakeweed, Death of man, Water Parsley, Poison root, Wild hemlock, Children's bane.
Authorities—Linnaeus, Schoepf, Pursh, B. Barton, Ely, Stockbridge, Bigelow, fig. 12.
Genus CICUTA—Flowers umbellate: No involucres, involucels many leaved and short; calix symphogyne, crown five toothed: petals oboval, entire, indexed; five long stamina; Fruit orbicular, crowned; with ten furrows, bipartible, bisperme.
Species C. MACULATA—Root fasciculate, tuberose: Stem hollow and striated; leaves tripinnate, folioles lanceolote, serrate, acuminate, teeth mucronate, veins exmedial: involucels acute, flowers lax.
Description—Root perennial, composed of many oblong fleshy tubers, of a finger's size—Stem from three to six feet high, hollow, striated, jointed, purple or green, smooth and branched. Leaves smooth, decomposed, alternate with petioles clasping at the base, bilobe, membranaceous; decreasing in size upwards, where they are only ternate, while the lower are tripinnate or triternate, folioles sessile, opposite, lanceolate, serrate, acuminate, with veins ending at the notches, which is very unusual. (NOT a certain sign! -Henriette)
Flowers white in terminal umbels, without involucres, umbels with seven to twelve umbellules, each having from twelve to twenty flowers, upright, not crowded: Involucels very short, oblong, acute; calix connected with the pistil, crowned, crown with five minute segments. Petals five obovate, white, entire, end inflexed. Filaments longer filiform, anthers oval. Two short recurved styles. Fruit nearly globular, divisible into two seeds as in all the umbellate plants, each is flat inside, convex outside, with five furrows.
Locality—In wet meadows, pastures, and ditches; near streams and swamps, from New England to Georgia and Ohio: also in the mountains of Pennsylvania and Virginia.—Blossoming in summer, from July to August.
History—The genus Cicuta is one of the poisonous hemlocks; the Conium maculatum, is, however, considered as the true hemlock and the most virulent: but the deadly poison of that name (rendered famous by the death of Socrates) was a compound beverage. In the United States, the same name is capriciously given to a beautiful and useful species of Fir-tree.
Both Cicuta and Conium belong to the natural order of UMBELLATE, or Umbelliferous plants, and to PENTANDRIA digynia of Linnaeus, although they have only one pistil.
Cicuta was the old latin name, maculata means spotted; but the plant not being spotted, it is a very bad specific name; which Bigelow would have changed into fasciculata, if changes of old names should not be avoided.
Many umbellate plants growing near waters are poisonous, although the Sweet Sisily or Myrrhis is not. The root of the last is often sought for by children, who like its sweet taste; but are apt to mistake this and many other poisonous plants for it, by which mistake several have been poisoned. It would be well to avoid all similar plants; or at least to attend to their different smell and taste, which is strong and disagreeable in all the pernicious kinds (NOT a certain sign either. -Henriette).
These deleterious plants appear to lose some of their virulence when growing in a drier soil, or cultivated in gardens. Sheep and goats eat them with impunity, and even cattle do not appear injured by them when mixed with hay.
Several persons searching for Angelica root, Sweet flag, Sweet Sisily (which have all a pleasant aromatic smell and taste,) have eaten this root by mistake, and some have died in an hours time. The effects of the poison were violent convulsions, a frothing mouth, a bleeding nose, dilated pupils, fixed eyes, &c. When vomiting was produced naturally, they were saved, after being very sick for three days, with stupor, paleness, &c. Persons poisoned in this way, ought therefore to evacuate the stomach, by tickling the throat, or taking an emetic: sulphate of zinc is the most speedy. Vinegar or Lemon juice may also be given to neutralize the narcotic poison, and next Castor oil, mild purgatives, strong coffee, &c. after vomiting.
Qualities—The root has a strong penetrating smell and taste, its bark contains a yellowish juice in small cavities. The juice of the root is viscid, resinous, dissolves in alcohol, and is precipitated by water. It produces a thick volatile oil by distillation, and a resin of a dark orange color is left. The decoction of the root is whitish. The extract of the whole plant is dark and has a nauseous smell.
Properties—A strong narcotic, solvent, and good substitute for the Conium maculatum, being more powerful, and requiring a lesser dose. A few grains of the dried leaves or extract have been given in schirrose and scrofulous tumors and ulcers, with equal advantage; but a larger dose produces nausea and vomiting: the doses should be very small, often repeated and gradually increased. It has been used in gargle for the sore throat, but safer substances ought to be preferred.
Substitutes—Conium maculatum—Angelica atropurpurea, and other violent narcotics.
Remarks—The Indians when tired of life, are said to poison themselves with the roots of this plant and the purple Angelica, A. atropurpurea. (The Angelica is not toxic. -Henriette)
Additions and corrections
22. CICUTA MACULATA—It probably contains the Coneine. Preferred to Conium in practice by some physicians as safer and less liable to lose its activity. The powder of the leaves gathered when the seeds are ripe, and dried in the shade is the best exhibition. Large doses produce vertigo, cardialgy, coma and even death.
CICUTA. Add, the yellow juice of the root dies yellow.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.