The New Student's Reference Work/Hemlock (plant)

Hem′lock, a family of plants having small white flowers and a flattened, oval fruit. The best known and most important species is the common or spotted hemlock, growing by the wayside and on heaps of rubbish in all parts of Europe and Asia and now naturalized in America. It has a small root, resembling a parsnip, a bright green, hollow stem, two to five feet high and generally spotted with purple. The leaves are large, of a dark shiny green. The chief ingredient of the hemlock is an alkaline poison, causing weakness and staggering gait and finally paralysis and death. The leaves and fruit are used as a medicine, obtained by distilling or by drying and crushing to powder. Among the Greeks death by hemlock poisoning was the punishment usually meted out to criminals, and so Socrates died.