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Fools Parsley (Aethusa cynapium) Identification Guide

Fools Parsley / Spring / Summer / Toxic

A toxic member of the carrot family, it’s closely related to Hemlock (Conium maculatum) but is not as poisonous.


Common Names

Fools Parsley, Fool’s Cicely, or Poison Parsley


Botanical Name      

Aethusa cynapium


Scientific Classification

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Apiales

Family – Apiaceae


Physical Characteristics for Fools Parsley

Leaves

The leaves are triangular overall, fern like with 2-4 pinnate divisions. They have groove running down the stem like Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) but they are hairless and have an unpleasant smell when crushed.

Stefan.lefnaer, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Flowers

The flowers are tiny, white and have 5 petals, they grow in umbels at the end of the stems.

Krzysztof Ziarnek, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons

Stem

The stems and hollow, grooved and hairless, unlike the hairy stems of Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris).


Habitat

It prefers open, sunny conditions and can be found in hedgerows, parks and meadows.


Known Hazards

The plant contains poisonous alkaloids, and consumption can cause inflammation of the mouth and throat leading to locked jaw syndrome, abdominal pain, excitation, confusion, blurred vision and pupil dilation.


Could be Confused with…

Its leaves could be mistaken for Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) or Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) but both of these plants have hairy leaves and stems.

It could also be mistaken for other more toxic members of the family for example Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum).


Notes on Herbal Uses

The plant is a sedative and stomachic and has been used to treat convulsions and summer diarrhoea in the past. We would not recommend this.


Extra notes from the Foragers

The plants name Aethusa is thought to derive from Greek or Arabic and means burning in reference to the sensation you get when you eat it.

Resources

https://www.friendsofthewildflowergarden.org/pages/plants/foolsparsley.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aethusa_cynapium

https://www.naturespot.org.uk/species/fools-parsley

https://wildflowerfinder.org.uk/Flowers/P/Parsley(Fools)/Parsley(Fools).htm

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