English Name—COMMON HEMLOCK.
French Name—Cigue commune.
German Name—Gemeine Schierling.
Officinal Name—Conium, Cicuta officinalis.
Vulgar Names—Poison Parsley, Spotted Parsley.
Authorities—Linnaeus, Schoepf, Murray, Cullen, Coxe, many Dispens. Bigelow, fig. 11, and Seq.
Genus CONIUM—Flowers umbellate, with many leaved involucres, and dimidiate involucels. Calix concrete with the pistil, margin entire. Petals five entire inflexed. Stamina five, Styles two. Fruit bipartite, two seeded, oval, compressed, ribbed, ribs wrinkled or crenate.
Species C. MACULATUM—Stem round, hollow, striated, and spotted: leaves decomposed, bi or tripinnate, folioles opposite, sessile, pinnatifid: fruit with undulated ribs.
Description—Root biennial, elongated, branched or fusiform—Stem from two to four feet high, branched, smooth, round, striated, hollow, jointed, and with oblong purplish dotts—Leaves smooth, decomposed, two or three times pinnate, with short sheathing petioles, leaflets or folioles pinnatifid, oval, nearly obtuse, often confluent.
Flowers in terminal peduncled umbels, with an involucre of ten to twelve lanceolate, reflected, acute leaflets—Umbellules from six to nine on long peduncles, involucels with three or four similar leaflets situated on one side. Flowers very small and white. Calix without apparent teeth—Petals five, oval, inflexed, obtuse and entire at the end—Stamina five, as long as the petals. Pistil coherent with the calix, rounded, bearing the petals and stamina: Styles two, reflexed outside. Fruit nearly oval compressed, with crenate ribs, separating into two elliptical seeds, flat inside, convex outside.
History—The Conium of the Greeks and the Cicuta of the Romans, was a poisonous plant, the juice of which was used to produce death in Ceos and Athens. Socrates and Phocion, two virtuous, eminent and innocent Athenians, were condemned to drink it, and their death has rendered famous, that poisonous potion. Either this plant or the Cicuta virosa of Europe afforded it, or a compound beverage was made from several poisonous umbelliferous plants, which procured a speedy but tranquil dissolution.
It has since been found, that these plants, like many other poisons, have valuable medical properties, nearly similar in all the deleterious species of this family. The Conium maculatum, is the most employed, and must be distinguished from others, either more or less active, by its botanical characters: besides its strong smell, spotted stems, parsley leaves, &c. The power of this plant vary exceedingly, according to the place and climate where it grows, the time when collected, and the preparations of it.
It is most powerful in warm climates, in the summer, and when full grown. Some persons are hardly affected by it: while others are more susceptible; on these it produces dizziness, nausea, disturbed sight, faintness, &c. which symptoms appear in half an hour and last half a day or more. A large dose produces worse symptoms, vertigo, paralysis, convulsions and death. There is little danger of being poisoned by this plant through mistake, owing to its bad smell: yet there are instances on record that children have taken it for parsley and the root for carrot: whereby sickness and death have been produced. In the United States, the Cicuta maculata is more dangerous on that score.
This plant blossoms in summer from June to August. It belongs like all the UMBELLATE to PENTANDRIA digynia of Linnaeus.
Locality—Native of Europe; but now naturalized in New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Ohio, &c. mostly found in old fields, near roads and fences, on the banks of rivers, &c. Very common in some local spots; but not found every where.
Qualities—The whole plant has a disagreeable virose smell (somewhat like the urine of a cat) which becomes stronger when the leaves are bruised. The root contains in the spring a milky juice, highly virulent. The essential active acrid principle of this plant appear to reside in a green resinous substance, called Coneine, dissipating by exposure to air and light, but not by fire. It contains Gum, Extractive, a green fecula, Resin, Albumen and many alkalies: but no essential oil. The taste is bitter and nauseous.
Properties—A powerful acrid narcotic and resolvent; but the uncertainty of its action lessens its value. It is never dangerous in very small doses, often repeated, and gradually increased. It is also an efficient anodyne, sedative and antispasmodic, useful to allay pain in acute diseases. It has been recommended in many chronic diseases, such as cancer, epilepsy, mania, syphilis, &c. but in those cases it acts only as a palliation to pain, like opium, to which it is often preferable, as less constipating.
The diseases in which it has been found useful, are chronic abcesses, schirrose tumors, foul ulcers, rickets, caries, repelled itch, abdominal and internal swellings, obstructions, hemicrania, dropsy of the joints, obstinate ophthalmia and cataracts, &c. In all these cases it acts as an efficient repellent and resolvent.
True Schirrus and Cancer cannot be cured by it; but obstinate and scrofulous tumors or swelled testicles (which terminate in, or are mistaken for schirrus) have been removed by its use.
The effects of this plant are so variable, that some physicians have pronounced it inert or a mere diuretic, having been deceived in their prescriptions owing to bad preparations or otherwise.
In tic douleureux it has afforded relief or even effected a cure, when nothing else could avail. While it is highly extolled in jaundice, removing the yellowness in a short time, and curing the disease, when not too complicated. It has also a relaxing effect in facilitating the passage of biliary concretions.
Although recommended for the whooping cough, it is not a safe medicine for children.
The best way to administer it, is that of the powdered leaves, beginning with two or three grains, and increasing the doses gradually. The leaves must preserve their green color to be efficient. Yet the most usual form is the green extract, beginning with one to five grains; but it is difficult to regulate the doses, each parcel having a different strength, and being even nearly inert when made with dry leaves, or young plants, or with too much heat, or when become old. It would therefore be desirable to procure the Coneine of a permanent strength. An extract from the seeds is said to be stronger and produces giddiness very soon. Externally it has been used in cataplasms for carcinoma, syphilis, leprosy and obstructions. Vinegar and lemon juice are the antidotes for the poison or over-doses of this plant.
Substitutes—Cicuta maculata—Angelica atropurpurea—Datura stramonium—Hyosciamus niger—Solanum dulcamara—Opium, &c. (The Angelica isn't toxic! -Henriette)
Remarks—The white and milky root of this plant is considered a violent poison and not used, although it might be more efficient than the leaves. It cannot contain however the active principle called Coneine, which is green, and it is found that whenever the leaves or extract lose their green color they become inert.
Additions and corrections
25. CONIUM MACULATUM—Beneficial in internal ulcerations, scrophulous, malignant and sanious ulcers, Lepra and Elephantiasis, Mania, &c. It ought to be taken in sufficient doses to produce vertigo.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.