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Pontifications on Poison

Being some ramblings on events associated with poisonous plants.

Monday 3rd February 2014

I finally got around to one of the best known poisons in my series of short videos ‘Poisonous Plants 1-2-1’. If the TV programme ‘Pointless’ asked its 100 people to name poisons from history two of the highest scoring answers would be arsenic and hemlock.

Hemlock is the name given to a number of different plants but the one I’m interested in today is Conium maculatum, poison hemlock.

The word ‘hemlock’ is quite interesting because no-one can find a convincing derivation for it. It may be Anglo-Saxon in origin and it has been suggested that it is based on the plant resembling hops and thus being ‘hymele lic’ (hop like). I think you’ll agree that this is a stretch as the two plants have little in common.

Humulus, hops
 
Humulus lupulus, hops
©Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana, USA

Conium maculatum, poison hemlock

Conium maculatum
poison hemlock

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘Hym’ in Anglo-Saxon English simply means ‘him’ so, I suppose, the plant could be simply ‘him like’ possibly as a result of extending the notion that it is speckled with Christ’s blood to become that it is a depiction of Christ crucified.

Unsurprisingly, the short format of this video series does not allow me to go in to much detail about the name but, I hope, you’ll find it a reasonable summary of the plant and its history.

Here’s the video.

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