We went for a walk along the river bank in Waipawa. There was masses of Hemlock growing there, so we took some photos, & I thought it would be a good idea to put them in here, along with some other ferny plants, that often get confused. Many people were told as children not to touch Fennel because it was poisonous, but I think that their parents were worried about the Hemlock & covering all bases. On Masterchef Australia the other evening there was a chef cooking with Fennel Pollen, stalks & stems, perhaps there’s a new market opening there?

Meantime I’ve put together photos of:

1) Hemlock, (Conium maculatum) note the purple stems, which can be streaked or spotted, & the leaf tips are serrated. A biennial. It grows on the edges of waterways, railway tracks & neglected land, preferring moist loamy soil & it is a nitrogen indicator. It can grow up to a lush 2 meters tall & has white umbel flowers. The plant contains a very poisonous alkaloid, especially in the unripe seeds. Socrates met his end with Hemlock & it’s toxic affect is to paralyse the body but not the mind leading to asphyxia, very sinister.  The oil it contains has a very bitter taste & smells like mouse. I didn’t get close enough to check that out.

hemlock-1 hemlock-fern hemlock-note-stem-colour

Other plants I’ve included for comparison are:

2) Chervil, a biennial, with it’s sweet anise smell & flavour, looking a lot more demure & delicate.

3) Yarrow, a perennial which has much more ferny leaves that grow on wiry stalks. The  flower stems & white flowerheads are very stiff, and the whole plant smells a bit like pine. It has creeping rootstock & can spread over a wide area.

4) Fennel has much finer leaves like seaweed,  with a strong aniseed smell & flavour. Being a perennial it forms sturdy clumps, woody stalks & yellow flower heads. It’s common on roadsides & waste areas. There are cultivated  varieties which are grown for the thick basal stalks, which are delicious.

Next 2 pics are Chervil, then Yarrow (L) & Fennel (R)

chervil chervil-in-flower yarrow fennel

While I’m at it, I want to include photos of Foxglove, Comfrey & Borage. When they flower it’s easy to tell the difference, but before that  Foxglove & Comfrey can be confused. Foxglove is a biennial, which grows in a tight rosette. The leaves are soft, with softly scalloped edges & a grey underside. Following top 2 photos are Foxglove, middle row is Comfrey & bottom pic is Borage.  Comfrey being a perennial forms a more robust clump, the veins on the leaves are very noticeable, the leaf edges are smooth, & the texture is bristly. Borage is an annual, so it flowers very quickly, it’s leaves are even more bristly than Comfrey & you can see the bristles around the leaf edges. Of course, as soon as it’s beautiful blue flowers appear, it’s totally recognisable.

foxglove foxglove-leaf comfrey-plant comfrey-leafborage

Foxglove seeds are  a source of some heart medicine, or the precursors of them, & of course there too lies their poisonous effects. Years & years ago, I worked in a vet’s in England & one of my jobs was to count out pills of Digitoxin for dogs with heart problems. I was always intrigued by the tiny, dark red pillules, which looked like they’d been hand made.