Tips and resources for farmers and gardeners
of Toxic Carrots
The carrot family, which boasts a variety of familiar edibles such as parsley, celery, carrots, anise, fennel, and cilantro, also contains two highly poisonous plants that many people confuse for their nontoxic counterparts.
Martin Quigley, an Ohio State University assistant professor of landscape ecology, says people should learn to recognize poison hemlock and wild parsnip. These plants look similar to and smell like other plants in the carrot family (Apiaceae, formerly known as Umbelliferae). Both plants originated in Europe, but are now commonly found in America, growing in wet, wooded areas and open fields, and along roadsides and railroad tracks.
Quigley says the main feature that distinguishes poison hemlock from other carrot family members is its tall size. “It’s the tallest of the carrot family, growing to more than six feet in moist conditions,” he sys. Wild parsnip also looks similar to other carrot family members. The plant is relatively harmless if ingested, but causes severe burns if the juice of the plant comes into contact with the skin.
“The plant is highly phytophototoxic, meaning that the juice only reacts with the skin when sunlight hits it,” says Quigley, showing his scarred arm as evidence. “I wore a T-shirt while leading a wildflower walk, and broke some stems without even realizing it. There is no recognized treatment, but one way to reduce the rash is to use athlete’s foot ointment to try to dry it up.
Quigley says the best recommendation when dealing with wild plants is to avoid them altogether. “Don’t pick or attempt to eat anything if you are not absolutely certain you know what it is,” he said.
Ohio State University Extension
Toxic Plants of North America
Covers toxic plants -- both wild and planted -- found on the North American continent north of the Tropic of Cancer. Covers both animal and human intoxications with pertinent information, including:
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