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Cowbane

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  • Botanical: Cicuta virosa
  • Family: Apiaceae or Umbelliferae
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Cowbane

Botanical

Cicuta virosa

Family

Apiaceae or Umbelliferae

Known as

Northern Water Hemlock, Wasserschierling, Wüterich

Parts Used

fruit, leaves, seed

Aroma

fresh

Medicinal

nausea, spasm, vomiting

Properties

analgesic, antispasmodic, galactagogue, sedative

Description

Hemlock is a tall, much branched and gracefully growing plant, with elegantly-cut foliage and white flowers.

It is a biennial plant, usually growing from 2 to 4 feet high, but in sheltered situations sometimes attaining nearly double that height. The root is long, forked, pale yellow and 1/2 to 3/4 inch in diameter. The erect, smooth stem, stout below, much branched above and hollow, is bright green, but is distinctively mottled with small irregular stains or spots of a port-wine colour and also covered with a white 'bloom' which is very easily rubbed off.

The leaves are numerous, those of the first year and the lower ones very large, even reaching 2 feet in length, alternate, longstalked, tripinnate. The upper leaves are much smaller, nearly stalkless, with the short footstalk dilated and stem-clasping, often opposite or three together, more oblong in outline, dipinnate or pinnate, quite smooth, uniform dull green, segments toothed, each tooth being tipped with a minute, sharp white point.

The umbels are rather small, 1 1/4 to 2 inches broad, numerous, terminal, on rather short flower stalks, with 12 to 16 rays to the umbel. At the base of the main umbel there are 4 to 8 lance-shaped, deflexed bracts; at the base of the small umbels there are three or four spreading bractlets.

The flowers are small, their petals white with an inflexed point, the stamens a little longer than the petals, with white anthers.

The fruit is small, about 1/8 inch long broad, ridged, compressed laterally and smooth. Both flowers and fruit bear a resemblance to caraway, but the prominent crenate (wavy) ridges and absence of vittae (oil cells between the ridges) are important characters for distinguishing this fruit from others of the same natural order of plants.

 

Properties & Uses

The root is analgesic, antispasmodic, emetic, galactofuge and sedative. The whole plant is highly toxic and is not used in herbal medicine. A homeopathic remedy has been made from this plant in the past. It was used in the treatment of epilepsy, meningitis and other ailments affecting the brain.

Other Uses

None known

Cautions

A very poisonous plant, even a small bite can be lethal. The active ingredient is called cicutoxin, it is a spasmodic with a high toxicity to the central nervous system. It causes death by respiratory paralysis.

Distribution

Northern and central Europe, including Britain, east to Japan.

Constituents

Alkaloid Coniine, Methyl-coniine, Conhydrine, Pseudoconhydrine, Ethyl piperidine, mucilage, a fixed oil.

For educational purposes only This information has not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.