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These plants, funghi and insect illustrations
are part of my botanical oracle deck

Conium maculatum | Hemlock

Botanical Overview of Hemlock

  • Scientific Name: Conium maculatum

  • Common Names: Hemlock, Poison Hemlock, Spotted Hemlock, Deadly Hemlock

  • Family: Apiaceae

  • Description: A biennial herb with hollow, purple-spotted stems, finely divided fern-like leaves, and small white flowers arranged in umbrella-shaped clusters (umbels). It grows up to 2.5 meters tall.

conium maculatum botanical illustration

Properties of Hemlock

  • Chemical Constituents: Alkaloids (coniine, N-methylconiine, conhydrine, pseudoconhydrine), volatile oils.

  • Edibility: Highly toxic and not edible; ingestion can be fatal.

Distribution and Habitat of Hemlock

  • Native Range: Europe and North Africa.

  • Preferred Habitat: Prefers moist, nutrient-rich soils. Often found along roadsides, riverbanks, meadows, and waste areas. It has naturalized in many parts of North America and other temperate regions.

Toxicological Properties and Uses of Hemlock

  • Toxic Compounds: The primary toxic alkaloid is coniine, which disrupts the central nervous system.

  • Symptoms of Poisoning: Initial symptoms include nervousness, trembling, and incoordination, followed by muscle paralysis. Severe cases lead to respiratory failure and death. Symptoms usually appear within 30 minutes to several hours after ingestion.

  • Lethal Dose: Even small amounts can be fatal. The lethal dose for an adult is estimated to be about 100 mg of coniine or 6-8 fresh leaves.

  • Historical Uses: Historically, hemlock was used as an execution method in ancient Greece, most famously for the philosopher Socrates. It has also been used in small doses for its sedative properties, but due to its high toxicity, it is no longer used medicinally.

Magical Correspondences and Uses in Magical Practice of Hemlock

  • Element: Water

  • Planet: Saturn, Pluto

  • Magical Properties: Banishing, protection, and curse breaking.

  • Uses: Due to its toxic nature, hemlock is used with great caution in magical practices. It is associated with banishing negative energies and breaking curses. Hemlock can be used in rituals for protection, but it is usually symbolic rather than physical to avoid poisoning. Its presence in spellwork is intended to signify the seriousness of the practitioner’s intent.

Folklore, Legends, and Mythology of Hemlock

  • Historical Context: Hemlock has a long history as a poison, used in both executions and assassinations. Its name is synonymous with death and danger.

  • Folklore: In European folklore, hemlock was often associated with witches and dark magic due to its deadly properties. It was believed to be used in concoctions for malevolent purposes.

  • Mythology: The plant is linked to Saturn, the god of time and death in Roman mythology, due to its association with endings and mortality. Hemlock's deadly reputation has made it a symbol of inevitable fate and the power of nature.

Historical Literary Sources

  • Plato’s "Phaedo": Describes the death of Socrates by hemlock poisoning, providing detailed accounts of the symptoms and effects.

  • Dioscorides’ "De Materia Medica": Discusses the toxic properties of hemlock and its historical uses.


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