At the risk of bragging, in the tenth year of this blog we’ve accumulated 2,735 published posts and another 706 unpublished drafts. Using a random number generator I decided to pick out a random post to see what the heck is in the archive. A blog post by Kelly came up, from October of 2013, that tells the story of how she accidentally munched on a piece of dried hemlock (Conium maculatum) having confused it for fennel.
And so I was fooled while out on a food forage hike last week. It was grim pickings out there! Acorns seem to be the only thing left to eat in the wild until the rains come. I’d sampled something unpleasant which lingered on my tongue. I wanted to clear the taste and spotted what I thought was the remains of a fennel plant. I pinched off a couple of seeds and put them in my mouth. They didn’t taste like fennel. They didn’t taste like anything at all. So I think I spit them out. Maybe.
As I was in the midst of doing this, I said to our teacher, Pascal, “Here’s some fennel?” As I said it, I wasn’t entirely sure, because the seeds didn’t taste right.
He said, “That’s not fennel, that’s poison hemlock.”
At this point I’d already swallowed or spit out the seeds. You know, whichever.
I said, “Oh…um…I just ate a couple of seeds.”
The rest of the class made noises of dismay. Someone offered me water.
It was really embarrassing.
As you might guess, Kelly survived. And thank you random number generator for the Jungian synchronicity: our last podcast is an interview with Pascal.
As Kelly notes in her blog post, Hemlock is in the Apiaceae (carrot family). Novice foragers would be wise to avoid this family entirely. That said, Pascal tells a story of running into a group of older Armenian woman gathering hemlock. When he questioned them they explained that they boil the hemlock and change out the water multiple times to make the leaves edible. I suspect they were using the plant medicinally. Neither Pascal nor Root Simple endorse this.
Happy summer foraging and watch out for the hemlock! Let us know in the comments if you’ve ever made a foraging mistake.