Poison Parsnip, Cowbane


Hazard Information

Route: Skin/Ingestion     Plant Part: Root

Scale: High

Fresh root is extremely poisonous, causes hyperactivity leading to seizures; initial symptoms include tremors, confusion, weakness, drowsiness.


Common Name(s)

Poison Parsnip, Cowbane

Latin Name



Perennial plants that are all similar in morphology, growing up to a maximum of 2.5 meters (8.2 ft) in height. The stem of the plant is branching, erect, smooth and hollow (except for partitions at the junction of the leaves and stem), sometimes being purple-striped, or mottled (typically only C. maculata has the purple stripes or spots). The plant flowers in spring or early summer; the flowers are small with green or white petals clustered in an umbrella shape (umbel) characteristic to this family; the umbel measures 5 centimeters (2.0 in) to 10 centimeters (3.9 in) across. The plants produce a cylindrical fruit which is 4 millimeters (0.16 in) to 6 millimeters (0.24 in) in length.



The root, when freshly pulled out of the ground, is extremely poisonous and contains the toxin Cicutoxin. When dried, poison is reduced to roughly 3 to 5 percent of that when fresh.


Its primary toxic effect is to act as a stimulant in the central nervous system and the resulting hyperactivity in brain cells results in seizures.

Initial symptoms reported may include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, tremors, confusion, weakness, dizziness, and drowsiness.

Flowering Period

Spring to Summer. After a plant flowers, it dies.


Cicuta spp. are found growing across North America and Europe. Typically, they grow in wet habitats usually alongside ponds and streams, in marshes or swamps, or areas that are swampy at least part of the year. Plants can also be found growing in water.