Food Safety

Published on June 6th, 2012 | by Becky Striepe


Poison Hemlock: Dangerous Garden Invader

Poison Hemlock. Photo via University of Pennsylvania.

Are you growing your own food? Growing even a small portion of the food you eat is so rewarding. There’s nothing like sitting down to a meal knowing that you nurtured some of those ingredients from soil to plate, right?

Container gardeners don’t need to worry as much about weeds and pests, but if you’re growing your food in the ground sometimes things pop up in the old garden that are not so welcome. That’s not always bad, right? Sometimes you get delicious volunteers from the compost bin. If the uninvited garden guests are weeds, you just pull them out and move on. But there’s one weed that pops up in food gardens that’s a little bit tricky and can be dangerous: poison hemlock.

The trouble with poison hemlock is that it’s a little bit tough to distinguish from food plants that you did mean to grow, like parsnip greens or parsley. If you’ve eaten a small amount of poison hemlock, you may experience tremors, trouble controlling your eyes, and other muscular problems. At higher doses, it can be lethal.

Poison hemlock grows across the United States and is actually a member of the parsley family. It can have clusters of white flowers, as well.

Identifying Poison Hemlock

Poison hemlock leaves look a lot like flat leave parsley leaves or carrot greens, but they’re a little bit more triangular in shape. Unlike carrots these greens are not hairy. Here are a few images of poison hemlock, to help you identify it in your food garden:

Poison hemlock one it's flowered

Poison hemlock one it's flowered. Photo via University of Pennsylvania

Closeup of poison hemlock leaves.

Closeups of poison hemlock leaves. Photo via University of Pennsylvania

If you’re not sure what you’ve got, I highly recommend getting in touch with your local university extension service. When I’ve had mystery plants pop up in the past, I’ve been able to email them a photo and they let me know if it was safe to eat or not. Just Google your town name and “extension service” to get contact info, and give them a call. Better safe than sorry!


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About the Author

My name is Becky Striepe (rhymes with “sleepy”), and I am a crafts and food writer from Atlanta, Georgia with a passion for making our planet a healthier, happier, and more compassionate place to live. My mission is to make vegan food and crafts accessible to everyone!. If you like my work, you can also find me on Twitter, Facebook, and .

4 Responses to Poison Hemlock: Dangerous Garden Invader

  1. Mark says:

    WOW! Looks a LOT like my flowering parsnips…

  2. Shelly says:

    Yipes! Now I’m not so sure that the plants on the edge of my garden bed are
    Italian Parsley or not…

    • Your best bet is to take a picture and send it to your area’s extension service. If their website doesn’t list an email, you can usually call and get an email address. Better safe than sorry!

  3. great tip Becky! You really need to be sure about what is safe to eat and what is not when you have a garden…

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