Hemlock & Cow Parsley 27

Note : Please don’t send me photos or ask me to identify trees, plants, berries or mushrooms.

Back in February I posted a recipe for cow parsley soup.  Cow parsley (Anthriscus sylvestris) is also known as ‘wild chervil’, and whilst I quite like  the slightly aniseed taste it gives, I know isn’t for everyone.

But the important thing to be aware of with cow parsley is that it can be mistaken for hemlock (Conium maculatum), in fact the most common foraging question we get asked is “What’s the difference between hemlock and cow parsley?”. Some of you might remember from history that the Greek philosopher Socrates was executed by consuming a hemlock derived drink – it’s highly poisonous so you need to get this right.

I added a couple of photos and a few pointers on the differences between cow parsley and hemlock in the cow parsley post, but I didn’t add a lot of detail as I’ve never seen any hemlock near our woodland camp to get close up photos.  However, at the weekend we ran a Wild Foods course at Nethergong Campsite and there was loads of hemlock growing alongside the cow parsley.  So here are some photos.


In this first photo the cow parsley is on the left and hemlock on the right.  The main differences are:

  • They are subtly different shades of green – the hemlock is a little darker.
  • Cow parsley has a matt finish whilst the hemlock has a slightly glossy sheen.
  • Hemlock has finer leaves, more feathery in appearance.

cow parsley and hemlock leaves


In this next photo cow parsley is again on the left and hemlock on the right.

  • Whilst cow parsley often has a pinkish hue to the stem, hemlock has very distinctive purple blotches on a green stem.  Make sure that you check the stem at ground level, this seems to be where the blotchiness often occurs.
  • Cow parsley is slightly hairy, hemlock has smooth stems.
  • Cow parsley stems have a groove, a bit like celery, hemlock doesn’t have this.


In this last photo you can see a cross section of the stems, again cow parsley on the left and hemlock on the right.  Note, the photo isn’t of the main stems, but from stems coming off the main stem.  Here the important thing to notice is the shape of the stems.  Cow parsley is triangular whilst hemlock is round and hollow.

hemlock stemSmell

So this is difficult to get across on a blog post, but smell can help here as well.  Cow parsley, I think, has a pleasant smell (a bit of a cross between parsley and aniseed), whilst hemlock really doesn’t!

Unless you are absolutely certain you know what it is, don’t eat any foraged plants.

We teach how to tell the difference between hemlock and cow parsley on our foraging courses.

You can see loads of photos from these courses, as well as all of our others, on our Facebook page.

About Gary

Lead Instructor at Jack Raven Bushcraft, teaching bushcraft, wilderness and survival skills to groups and individuals.

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