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Cicuta virosa (L)                   Cowbane


Cicuta : latin for Hemlock (see Conium maculatum).
virosa : poisonous

poisonous to cows.

BSBI Picture Link to Cicuta virosa


TYPE : stout erect aquatic perennial. Hel/Hyd. STATUS : highly poisonous.
AROMA : of parsley. TASTE : sweet, of parsnip.
ROOTS : ovoid, egg shaped, tuberous, septate, hollow, like parsnip.
Has whorls of slender fibourous root stems.
STEMS : ridged, hollow.
30-150cm. UMBELS : terminal, compound, lateral, leaf opposed.
7-13cm diam. Flat topped. Rays 10-30, 1-5cm, subequal, smooth. Peduncle >
than rays Hermph. Partial umbel many flowered, dense.
LEAVES : up to 30cm, deltate, 2-3 pinnate, segments 3-9 cm, linear lancolate, acutely
serrate, unequal at base, midrib scabrid above, smooth beneath. Petioles long, stout,
hollow, sheathing and dilated at the base. Upper cauline leaves similar but smaller.
Cotyledons gradually tapered at base, no petiole.
BRACTS : 0. Bracteoles many. Strap shaped, longer than the pedicels.
FLOWERS : white. Calyx teeth ovate. Inflexed points on petals.
Styles form stylopodium. Fl .7-8.
FRUIT: 2mm, subglobose, or broadly ovoid, subterete, smooth. Commisure wide.
Carpels with 5 equal broad flattened edges. Carpophore present. Vittae, slender, solitary
in the furrows. Pedicels 6mm, slender. Styles 2-3 x as long as stylopodium, curved.
Stigma a small knob. Has spongy cavities to keep seeds afloat. 2n=22.

HABITAT : shallow water, ditches, marshes. ponds, fens, often with Hemlock.

DISTRIBUTION : native. Scattered through Britain. Local, fens, mainly in East Anglia,
Shropshire, Cheshire, S.E. Scotland, N.E. & N.C. Ireland. Europe N. of 45. Temperate Asia.
Siberia to Sakhalin & Japan.
BSBI Distribution Map for Cicuta virosa (UK)


ACTIVE INGREDIENTS : Resinous cicutoxin, an amorp­hous substance of acid
reaction, slight odour, disaggreable taste 3-5%. Cucatine also.

APPLICATION : homoeopathy only; for epilepsy, meningitis, ailments of brain.


SYMPTOMS : produces tetonic convulsions which kills cattle frequently. Nausea,
widely dilated pupils, vomiting, delirium, violent convulsions & death from asphyxia.
Looses properties on drying.

will not reveal anything.

TREATMENT : keep patient warm, avoid excitement. Stomach lavage,
inject soluable barbituates or anti-convulsants.

'British Poisons Unit', April 1857: two farmers Sons found paralysed & speechless
near a pond, close to the field they had been working in. They expired shortly after.
They had mistaken the roots of Cowbane for an edible species.


These links to trusted websites and institutions may provide in depth or additional information regards cultivation, chemistry, edibility, images etc. for the species. Links last updated Aug 2012.

Wikipedia (EU)    Plants For a Future (UK)
Nature Gate (FIN)    Bio Info (UK)
A Modern Herbal. M. Grieve (UK)
    Web Homeopathy (SWE)
Materia Medica Pr.Cowperthwaite (FRA)

'Online Guide To Umbelliferae Of The British Isles' Compiled By J.M.Burton 2002