Today we volunteered at one of the local community gardens, hoping to have a little fun while doing something helpful. The garden was huge, with over a hundred plots, but we didn't get anywhere near it. Instead we ended up on weeding duty, clearing the wooded area around the garden of invasive species. (Meh!)
We got a quick crash course in how to identify those plants about to be banished from the garden: English ivy, wild clematis, overgrown blackberry bushes, and...hemlock, the Bard's herb!
One of the volunteer leaders warned us to wear gloves when pulling up the hemlock, making a passing reference to it being poisonous. Some of the kids volunteering weren't even allowed near it, which got us wondering, how bad could this stuff really be?
Turns out, hemlock is a decidedly nasty cousin of parsley. According to wikipedia, Socrates was famously poisoned by a hemlock potion. Today, the plants we weeded looked quite a bit like a carrot above ground, but with a purplish red spotted stalk and a stronger, herby odor. It can kill you quickly--its neurotoxin properties shut down the respiratory system--so keep it away from your stews and brews!