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Fool's Parsley {past medicinal uses}

Updated on February 22, 2014

Fools parsley

Familiar Wild Flowers { 1878}
Familiar Wild Flowers { 1878}

Fools parsley growing on the banks of a lake | Source


Fools parsley belongs to the Order of plants known as the Apiales and the family Apiaceae , formerly the umbelliferae. They have been given the genus name of Aethusa, which derives from the Greek indicating to burn, in allusion to its acrid taste. The specific name of cynapium, means Dog's parsley as a mark of inferiority to the common parsley.

This family od plants is one of the most difficult to identify, as far as the species are concerned, that the forager will come across. Many members of this family are beneficial to human health as for examples Fennel,Celery,Parsnips etc, while others are very toxic as for example Hemlock, Hemlock water dropwort, and, as our subjects common name suggests the Fools Parsley.

Correct identification of the species in this family therefore, is of paramount importance, when harvesting for medicinal or culinary purposes. Here in this review of the Fools parsley there will be a description along with images. we will also take a look at the plants past medicinal uses with extracts from archaic herbals and case notes arising from its administration. as always I commence with a description of the species under review.

Components of Fools parsley

Thome's Flora Public domain
Thome's Flora Public domain

Description of Fools parsley

Fools parsley is an annual species which flowers from July to September. It has a tapering branched root of a whitish colour. From this root arises a stem from one to two feet in height. The stem is upright and branched, and somewhat zig zag at times. It is jointed, round , smooth and striated, sometimes purplish, but unlike the hemlock the stem is not spotted.

The foliage is finely divided and arranged in alternate manner . The leaves are bi-pinnate, smooth and of a dark lurid green colour. The segments are egg to spear shaped, variously cut, lobed and more or less decurrent. The lower leaves are sometimes tri-pinnate.

The umbels are terminal on long stalks, spreading and flattish. The smaller umbels { that make up the flower head} are small and stand away from each other. They are three to six cm wide. The individual flowers that form these small umbels are white {not yellow as in the common parsley}, the tiny petals being somewhat radiating, inversely heart shaped, with the summits bent inwards. The anthers have a purplish colouring. The stalks of each flower is angular.

The fruits {seed capsules} are egg shaped, striated, pale brown.

Identification tips.-- before the flowers expand the bractea {small bracts} are generally found spreading horizontally. When the plant is in flower they hang down beneath each umbel. When in fruit they tend to bend inwards. { The bractea are clearly demonstrated in the image above -Familiar Wild Flowers}.

Though it is often confounded with other similar looking members of the family it has several distinctive and conspicuous characteristics. being a common weed in rich garden soils, it has been inadvertently gathered for the garden parsley, which has given rise to some serious incidents, which will be covered later in the text {case notes}. The leaves however, are more elegant, drooping, acute,and of a lurid shiny green colour. The leaves of the garden parsley when bruised give off a strong but not disagreeable odour, which many people are familiar with, the leaves of Fools parsley hardly give off any smell at all.

if we can get the thought of it being ' A nasty poisonous thing' we would surely admire the delicate grace and beauty bestowed on this plant.

Wayside and Woodland Flowers {1922}
Wayside and Woodland Flowers {1922}


The plant has hardly any smell in its fresh state,but when bruised it exhales a nauseous odour similar to that of Garlic treacle mustard {Erysimum allaria}. The root has no particular taste. The fresh leaves somewhat resemble parsley in flavour, but do not have the peculiar aroma of that herb. When dried they have a nauseous, bitter taste, their acridity having disappeared. The fruit { in this as in several instances, the active principal resides in the fruit capsule and not in the seeds} has allthe properties of the herbaceous plant parts, but in a higher degree, and when crushed manifests a slight pungency in the gullet and stomach.

Professor Ficinus, of Dresden discovered a new alkaloid in the plant which he gave the name of Cynapin or cynapia. It is crystallizable , and soluable in alcohol and water, but not in ether. The crystals are in the form of a rhombic prism.

Historical case notes of its poisonous properties.

In days gone by, as is the case to a lesser degree today, medicines and drugs in general were tested on animals there follows a record of one such test. Animal lovers may find this disturbing and if so please skip the following paragraphs. .Orfila gave six ounces of the expressed juice to a dog.

Twenty minutes later the dog appeared nauseated, but some time elapsed before the urgent symptoms appeared. Suddenly it stretched out its limbs and lay on its belly. A few minutes later it tried to get up, but all its efforts were in vain. The muscles of the limbs were powerless. The dog raised up, but fell down again instantly. The organs of sense performed their functions, the pupils were scarcely dilated, and the pulsations of the heart were slow and vigorous. The state lasted for about a quarter of an hour, after which the extremities became convulsed, the organs of sense enfeebled, and the oesophagus and throat were the seat of spasmodic contractions.

The stupor gradually increased, and the animal died within the hour. On dissection, the heart was contracted and filled with a blackish fluid, even in the ventricle;The lungs were less crepitant than in their natural state. The stomach was full of ingested juice there was no alliration in the digestive canal. { The record was taken from Traite des Poisons page 134}

Flora Homeopathica {1852}
Flora Homeopathica {1852}

Historical case notes on the poisonous affects on humans.

Two ladies of Castle Donnington, Leicestershire {English Midlands}, partook some salad, wherein Aethusa cynapium had been mistaken for common parsley, with which it had grown and gathered.

Symptoms of an alarming kind soon followed, indicative of the full operation of that pernicious vegetable. They were a troublesome nausea, with occasional vomiting, accompanied by oppressive headache and giddiness.Also a strong propensity to slumber, at the same time a calm repose was wholly prevented by frequent startings and excessive agitations.The mouth, throat and stomach were impressed with sensations of pungent heat,attended with great difficulty in swallowing.

increase thirst prevailed, with total loss of appetite for every kind of solid ailment. The extremities felt benumbed and were affected with tremors, and all the vital and animal functions were performed with unusual inactivity. This tale had a happy ending with both ladies making an eventual recovery. {taken from the Medical and Physical Journal page 425}.

Another case relates to a six year old boy. {Orfila,locqcit}, who was not so fortunate. The young boy having eaten it at four o' clock in the afternoon in mistake for parsley, some uttered cries of distress and complained of cramps in his stomach. before his father had conveyed him from the field, his whole body was much swollen, and assumed a livid tint. His breathing was short and difficult, and he died about midnight.

Another boy just four years old, who was poisoned in the same manner was 'fortunate' enough to be seized with vomiting, this did not prevent the access of delirium.His life was saved however, though the physician did not arrive till the next morning.

And finally a case that tells of a young man who ate a handful of Fools parsley, with nearly the same quantity of lettuce, about one o' clock on Thursday. In about ten minutes hes was affected with pain and hardness of the stomach and bowels, attended with rumblings. He walked out, but was seized with such languor, weariness and weakness, that he could scarcely get home.

Giddiness and confusion of vision ensued. At seven o' clock he took an emetic while considerably relieved him from the uneasy sensations in the bowels, but the other symptoms continued, and he passed a restless night. The next day he had much pain in the head and eyes, which were inflamed and blood shot and transient, but painful,circumscribed swellings of the face.

On Saturday his eyes were painful, and entirely closed by the surrounding inflammation, he was much relieved by bleeding. The symptoms were not entirely removed for two or three subsequent days, but he did eventually recover.

Dr.Buckhave {Acta Regiae Societatis Medicae Hauniensis, quoted in Medical Commontries page 137}. mentions several cases in which Fools parsley was given inadvertently for Hemlock and produced unpleasant symptoms, besides frustrating the purpose for which Hemlock was ordered.

Hence it appears that Fools parsley acts as a narcotic-acrid poison, and the main symptoms appeared to be heat in the throat, thirst, vomiting, occasional diarrhoea, short and difficult respiration, pulse weak and frequent, headache, vertigo,swelling of the limbs and delirium.

Common garden parsley


Treatment of poisoning.

According to the British Flora Medica {1853}, the first thing to be done in the case of poisoning by this plant is to administer an emetic. If it has only been swallowed but a short time, two or three grains of emetic tartar, or from 20-24 grains of Ipecacuanha dissolved in a small quantity of water is suitable. Or the throat may be tickled with a feather.

If the poison has been some time in the stomach, and spontaneous vomiting has not occurred, an emetic combined with a purgative, such as Epsom Salts, may be given, and purgative lavements may be exhibited. If symptoms of cerebral congestion appear, blood should be taken from the jugular vein. Subsequently, when the poison is evacuated,acidulated drinks should be given, and chiefly water sharpened by vinegar, in small doses, frequently repeated. When the narcotic effects are abated, the acidulous drinks should give place to mucilaginous infusions or decoctions, as the infusion of Mallow or Violets, or Almond emulsions.

Wittke, { Magazin furr Pharmacie, page 228} tells of two children in whom was complete insensibility, dilated, insensible pupil and staring eyes, and in one of them frequent convulsions, were treated by the administration of milk,, sinapisms to the legs, and cold sponging with vinegar.

The above paragraphs are for an historical interest only. Anyone suspecting poisoning by this plant should seek medical attention immediately.

Medicinal uses.

There are few of the ancients writers attributed any medical virtues to this plant. Some, however, mention its resolvment and sedative effects when applied externally.

Millspaugh in his book American Medicinal Plants, states that the Fools parsley is indigenous to Europe and Siberia " from whence it has been introduced into this country, where it now grows, still sparingly along the roadsides and waste places, about cultivated grounds in New England, and from there to Pennsylvania, flowering in July and August."

On account of the many cases of poisoning by the inadvertent use of this herb for parsley, very little use has been made of it by physicians. Millspaugh goes on to say " By the early writers it was often confounded with Conicum {Hemlock}, that it is very hard to trace its history."

It was not mentioned in the US, Ph, nor was it found in the Eclectic Dispensatory.

Fools parsley therefore should be admired for its grace and elegance and left well alone where culinary or medicinal preparations are concerned because of its highly toxic nature.

Flowers of the Fools parsley

This image shows very clearly the grace of the flowers.
This image shows very clearly the grace of the flowers. | Source


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    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hi Deb, glad to have been of help. Thank you for your visit and for your usual kind comments. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      6 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      Beautiful, yes. I have seen this in Maine, yet knew it was not the parsley that I have known. This was well done with much information that I had no knowledge.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Oops, I posted this reply just now before signing in so it's as a guest user. I'll try to delete that and will repost reply from my Hub account:

      @D.A.L. You agree? Then please pardon my possible misunderstanding of your statement: "The reason {excuse} for this cruelty was that it aided human health in the long term and many cures for diseases, many that would prove life threatening, have been discovered because of their tests." You stated that as a past belief/excuse, but that's the same excuse still fearfully in use today, even by animal lovers, if anyone will comprehend what you said, and look at the links I provided earlier. This has got to change.

      Again, I do appreciate knowing about this poisonous "parsley," and like your writing.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      @D.A.L. You agree? Then please pardon my possible misunderstanding of your statement: "The reason {excuse} for this cruelty was that it aided human health in the long term and many cures for diseases, many that would prove life threatening, have been discovered because of their tests." You stated that as a past belief/excuse, but that's the same excuse still fearfully in use today, even by animal lovers, if anyone will comprehend what you said, and look at the links I provided earlier. This has got to change.

      Again, I do appreciate knowing about this poisonous "parsley," and like your writing.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi Eddy, Thank you for your usual encouraging comments, and your loyal following , both of which are appreciated. Best wishes to you my friend.


      Hi Devika, thank you also for your encouraging comments and your loyal follow. These flowers are graceful and beautiful, but it is a plant to be aware of because of its similarity to other benign members of the family.Best wishes to you.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      It seems to me that you are the one that has misunderstood my reply . Did I not say in that reply that I agreed with you whole heartedly. I was just reporting the facts that I came across during my research. It is a part of history whether one agrees with it or not. Best wishes to you.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      @D.A.L.: It's not about my being upset, as I've been fighting against this belief system for a long time. Like most people, you seem to believe the lies put out by vivisectionists since it began in the Dark Ages, which is why it continues to this day, because of fearful public support. Please look into the following links to get a new perspective on this issue so that you might no longer promote vivisection by claiming life-saving benefits from it as you did in your reply here. Referring to a torturous unscientific study, like you did in the article, is educational as long as you preface it as that. Like your article states, human reactions were known from human reactions to and death from eating the poisonous parsley (and possible autopsies of those who died and studies of the herb's properties). And like I said, there are NO excuses for such monstrous human behavior as knowingly putting animals through absolute hell and death, nor in feigning ignorance or desperate curiosity and doing same:

    • Eiddwen profile image


      6 years ago from Wales

      As always my friend interesting ad so very useful. I wish you a great weekend.


    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 

      6 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I have seen Fool's Parsley around but had no idea what it was until I read this hub. The flowers are so beautiful and the medicinal uses sound potent.

    • D.A.L. profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      Hi, unfortunately these tests were carried out regularly in days gone by {and today to a lesser degree}. The reason {excuse} for this cruelty was that it aided human health in the long term and many cures for diseases, many that would prove life threatening,have been discovered because of their tests. As a naturalist I tend to agree with your comments whole heartedly. However, when you are writing about the historical facts about the subject it is only right to include them, I always put in to the paragraph a warning that it may upset some readers and that they would be better to skip that particular paragraph. Thank you for your visit and for leaving your heart felt comments. Best wishes to you.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      A real, intensive study should be made of the sort of people able to take and do terrible things to animals and watch detachedly while taking notes and such while helpless innocents go through deliberately caused agony and death. Then after that "human" study is finally realized, all of those people and their obedient supporters & believers should be shipped off to some other world beginning with an H. Just saying... that dog "study"... people should never, ever behave that way. No excuses. Period. But interesting about this poisonous fool's parsley, so thanks for that part.


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