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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Graham

Water Hemlock

Cicuta, commonly known as water hemlock, is a toxic, invasive weed that is found in some Saskatchewan grasslands. This plant is toxic to livestock and humans. The toxin is most potent in the root, however, the entire plant is toxic. It is important to identify and remove the plant before putting cattle on pasture. Make sure to always use gloves when handling this plant.

How to identify water hemlock?

- In wetlands

- Small, white flowers in an umbrella cluster

- Thick rootstalk

- When the stem is cut/broken, it will be hollow and a liquid will be released. This liquid is very dangerous.

- Thick, tubular roots

- Sharply toothed leaflets

- Tall, branching perennial

- Height: 0.5 to 1.0 meters







Water hemlock is sometimes mistaken as cow parsnip or water parsnip. Both cow and water parsnip are non-toxic to humans and livestock. Water parsnip is usually found in the same environment that water hemlock is found. This plant is characterized by once-divided leaves and very long, narrow leaflets. Cow parsnip is a tall plant with broad leaves. A comparison is shown below.

<Cows Parsnip

Water Parsnip>






Symptoms of hemlock poisoning:

- Nervousness/muscle twitching

- Rapid pulse and breathing

- Convulsions

- Death can occur as quickly as 15 minutes after consumption


Unfortunately, most cases of water hemlock poisoning are diagnosed by finding deceased cattle. The best management practice is to check the field and interfere before allowing cattle onto each pasture. Contact your local government rep for more information. Educate yourself on the toxic plants in your area. With drought conditions, some of these noxious weeds are thriving more than ever before.

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