‘I was really too honest a man to be a politician and live.’

The Washington Poison Center is tracking cases of hemlock poisoning. Five cases have been reported, according to three media outlets covering the story: the Tacoma News Tribune, The Bellingham Herald, and The Associated Press.

“That was an unusual number for us,” said Katie Von Derau of the Poison Center.

One woman “apparently put hemlock in a salad she ate, thinking it was something else . . .”

It’s scientific name is Conium maculatum, and it’s “the same poison that killed Greek philosopher Socrates.”

The center and the Noxious Weed Control Board have partnered to warn the public about mistaking hemlock for edible plants. It is sometimes thought to be parsley, parsnip, wild carrot and anise, which have similar flowers, leaves and seeds. Poison hemlock is in the same plant family as carrot.

That whole plant family is either very edible or very deadly, and it’s important to know the difference. It’s hard to tell the difference sometimes.”

The white flowers and leaves look like a cross between Italian parsley and a fern. All parts of the plant are poisonous and affect the nervous system.

It “grows along roadsides and waterways, in pastures and playgrounds, in vacant lots and cracks in the pavement.”

Poison hemlock is common, second as a noxious weed only to tansy ragwort in Pierce County.

“I have found it in people’s gardens, however, sometimes lovingly cultivated, either for its attractiveness or under the mistaken impression that it is one of its edible relatives,” he said.

David Westerlund of Bellingham nearly died from it.

He . . . put what he thought was a carrot in a bowl of fermented vegetables. . . He expects to make a full recovery, but is lucky he wasn’t killed . . .”

Westerlund didn’t think “something toxic or deadly could be in my garden.”


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