crows daughter wrote:
I was at the AHG symposium, on a plant walk.
We picked some hemlock. I smelled it. It was pretty strong.
It was on my hands for the rest of the walk and I had to wash them to get the smell off.
I think you would know if you had it.
Deadly nightshade doesn't grow on the West Coast. The plant you probably saw was black nightshade which isn't really poison but could make you sick.
So many plants, so little time.........
The hemlock you touched and smelled was strong.
The hemlock I saw on a walk led
by noted wild food expert John Kallas (www.wildfoodadventures.com) smelled vaguely carroty, not particularly strong, but had all the other warning signs of poison hemlock.
John also vouched, from personal (very careful) experience, that hemlock also may not taste unpleasant. It's not bitter or "gag-me" awful like optimists expect. The people who've eaten a bite or two and died, obviously didn't gag hard enough to spit it out in time.
I have a friend who won't even let her kids touch it, to test the smell or stems, because she lost some friends to a "wild carrot stew" accident while hiking.
Signs of hemlock:
0) It's umbrelliferous, like carrot, parsley, fennel, or Queen Anne's Lace. (Queen Anne's Lace is casually used as a blanket term for plants related to this family, especially those with white blossoms. I use it as one of the warning signs of hemlock, rather than teaching 'the difference.')
1) Hairless stems
2) Reddish freckles low on the stem - often elongated or patchy
3) Hollow stems, especially the base / root
4) Tubular stem joints, instead of wrapped-around flat things
5) The nasty smell.
Any 2 of these signs is enough for me to leave it alone. (Sometimes the stem gets damaged, or the freckles blur, or there's a weird variant or hybrid. I don't need wild carrots badly enough to die for them.)
Water hemlock and Poison Hemlock are related, but slightly different. I believe all parts of poison hemlock can be toxic, while water hemlock it's usually just the root but it's even more deadly.
Deadly nightshade is one of several varieties of nightshade that contain their special toxins, in greater or lesser amounts.
I would never advise a newcomer that some nightshades are OK - even if you've eaten something a few times, doesn't mean the next batch will be safe for someone else. Especially if it depends on a distinction like the berries turning a different color when ripe; all the other signs are easily confused. I don't eat nightshades, though I do eat tomatoes
I sucked nectar from rhododendron flowers as a child; now that I know they're poisonous, I don't feel like I've disproved anything. I feel like I was a very lucky girl and got distracted before I reached a harmful dose.
In general, red or white berries are poisonous unless you know different.
This includes baneberry (which has a red and a white variety) and a couple other low-growing berries; snowberry (I think its medicinal use was as a purgative, one berry sometimes taken after a very heavy potlatch meal); and I'm told red elderberry is also toxic. Yew berry flesh (red) is reportedly the only part of the yew plant that is not toxic, but I don't tend to eat them anyway.
Red huckleberries, strawberries, and raspberries are the exceptions that most people can recognize.
(There are cranberries, crab apples, various cultivated fruits, and there's some debate about wild cherries...)
Poison oak and snowberry are both tricksters; their leaves can be many shapes, colors, and heights. IMHO poison oak is naster because it catches you unawares and punishes you for days, whereas it's easy not to eat snowberries. Poison oak in southern Oregon can grow into a small tree, and I've heard of people mistakenly cutting it for firewood. The smoke is also nasty, and can produce allergic reactions to die for.
You didn't ask about mushrooms
, but for general info I'll mention them anyway. We have several delectable varieties, and several lethal ones. Some of the poisons are cumulative, or vary wildly from mushroom to mushroom. Mushrooms are another quick way to die if you don't know what you're doing, or if you trust the wrong friend at the wrong time.
There are plenty of inedible leaves, roots
, shoots, and fruits; some are simply not palatable, others have toxins or allergens that can build up in your system over time.
I googled "Pacific Northwest Poisonous Plants" and got some interesting results, but my internet burped and I lost them. Give it a try - you might find info on decorative introduced plants and weeds as well as natives.
Many of my favorite plants have toxic parts too, and I'm not advocating paranoia.
I'm encouraging you to get a good guide book, and have friends introduce you to specific edible plants, instead of nibbling indiscriminately.
Horrible tasting plants are usually not food.
But sweet tasting plants can still be poisonous.
Glad your lucky escape prompted this thread
- it's vital info to have out there for wildcrafters.
We have lots of lovely edible plants, and many more that are edible in small quantities or with careful preparation.
- Erica Wisner