Emerg Med J 19:472-473 doi:10.1136/emj.19.5.472
  • Case report

A hemlock water dropwort curry: a case of multiple poisoning

  1. C Downs1,
  2. J Phillips1,
  3. A Ranger1,
  4. L Farrell2
  1. 1The Mid Argyll Hospital, Lochgilphead, Argyll PA31 8LU, UK
  2. 2Scottish Natural Hertitage, Lochgilphead, Argyll
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr C Downs;
  • Accepted 31 January 2002

Hemlock water dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) is perhaps the most poisonous indigenous plant in Britain.1 It is a member of the Umbellifer family and is found in ditches, damp meadows, in steams, by riverbanks, and in marshes. It is a large, stout plant between three and five feet high that flowers in July. The lower stem is usually thick and joins to clusters of fleshy tubers that gives rise to the popular name “dead man’s fingers”.

The entire plant is poisonous. The tubers, stems, and leaves contain oenanthotoxin, a highly unsaturated higher alcohol, which is known to be poisonous and a powerful convulsant.2

The majority of the umbellifer family are harmless. These include species of celery, parsley, parsnip, and carrots. The poisonous members are hemlock (Conium maculatum), cowbane (Cicuta virosa), and hemlock water dropwort.3

Poisoning by hemlock water droplet is an infrequent event. A number of human fatalities have occurred over the years, although animals are its usual victims.


A group of eight young adults who were on holiday in Argyll collected what they thought were water parsnips from a small stream. The roots were cleaned, chopped, and added to a curry. All consumed the curry, but the majority of …

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