Hemlock Water Dropwort

Poisonous Poisonous Spring Spring Summer Summer Winter Winter

The most poisonous plant in the UK and very common along most of our waterways.

Hedgerow Type
Common Names Hemlock Water Dropwort, Water Hemlock, Dead Mans Fingers, Dead Tongue
Scientific Name Oenanthe crocata
Season Start Feb
Season End Jul
Please note that each and every hedgerow item you come across may vary in appearance to these photos.


Bright green and shiney, a bit fern like with two to four pinnate divisions, the whole looking triangular in shape.


A collection of small white flowers arranged in an umbel.


Small brown rugby ball shaped seeds in clusters replacing the flowers.


Bright green, hollow, grooved, hairless, shiney and up to six feet tall. When cut the stem exudes a staining yellow liquid.


Damp areas including marshes, lake, river and stream sides or along ditches. Can be found several meters inland from water sources.

Possible Confusion

Flat leaved parsley, water parsnip or water celery.


Like very sweet parsley, its lovely smell gives no indication off how toxic this plant really is.


The root is said to taste pleasantly like parsnip before poisoning the consumer.


Very common along waterways, damp ditches and marshy areas.

Medicinal Uses

Being the most poisonous plant in the UK, this is not used for medicinal purposes.

Other Facts

The term sardonic grin comes from the grisley practice in Phoenician Sardinia of disposing of criminals and old people using Hemlock Water Dropwort. The poison acts by constricting the muscles causing death by asphixia which also causes a rictus like death grin, the sardonic grin.
Hemlock Water Dropwort is the most poisonous plant in the UK and all parts of it are poisonous, it is reported that death can occur in as little as a couple of hours after ingestion.
Hemlock Water Dropwort is in the Apiaceae family, one of great interest to foragers as the family contains many fine edibles and a good handful of deadly poisonous species.


4 comments for Hemlock Water Dropwort

  1. Patty Inman says:

    Hi, how do i book onto a foraging workshop? When is the next cheshire days on? Im from Liverpool area so im supposing cheshire is nearest?
    Thank you
    Bright blessings
    Patty xxx

    1. Poppy Ives says:

      Hi Patty, yes Cheshire is our nearest venue. Our spring courses there are fully booked but we have available spaces on our summer courses on 14th June, 19th July and 3rd August.
      You can book them online here https://www.wildfooduk.com/foraging-trips/cheshire-marbury-country-park-summer-foraging-courses/

  2. Linda Schofield says:

    I have been offered a site for an out apiary for my bees. I am aware that there is water drop wort on the site, as some grazing cattle had died there after eating it (about 30 years ago). As the plant is umbelliferous, it is likely to attract the attention of my honey bee foragers. Would there be any risk from eating honey from this source?

    1. Eric Biggane says:

      Hi Linda, it’s rare for a plant to produce poisonous nectar as it would affect the bees. I can’t find anything specific to Hemlock Waterdrop Wort but I did find an article stating that the poisonous Hemlocks don’t produce poisonous nectar. http://www.quora.com/If-a-bee-pollinates-a-poisonous-plant-such-as-hemlock-or-oleander-and-the-honey-is-harvested-from-this-particular-population-could-it-harm-the-humans-who-eat-it-On-the-same-note-what-if-you-are-stung-by-that-bee

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