Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)


WP_20160524_18_15_31_ProMayapple is a perennial native to the eastern United States and southeastern Canada. It can be found in the spring and early summer growing in woodland colonies.

Several plants grow from the same creeping underground rhizome. Some of these produce a single, umbrella-like leaf, and do not bear fruit. Others are double-leaf, and produce a single, downward facing white bloom below the foliage in April or May.

The bloom becomes a single green fruit, which persists after the foliage has died back at the end of summer and the plant has gone dormant. This fruit is eaten by many species of animals, and can be hard to find because of this. It is safe to eat only after it is allowed to ripen fully. The unripe fruit is green and hard and becomes soft and yellow when it is ripe. The skin and seeds should not be consumed.

Mayapple saw historic use by the Native Americans as an emetic, a cathartic, an anthelmintic, and as an antidote for snakebites. However, it was also used as a poison, and is too toxic to be considered medicinally for home use. All parts of the mayapple plant are toxic, including the unripe fruit. It contains podopyllotoxin, which causes gastrointestinal symptoms upon ingestion, and dermal irritation following skin contact. Symptoms of poisoning appear within 12 hours and can be fatal.(1) The toxin is most concentrated in the root.

The plant has some modern medical uses, as described here.

Other common names: Indian apple, American mandrake, wild mandrake, ground lemon.

More identification photos: Ontario wildflowers


Emetic: a substance that induces vomiting
Cathartic: an agent that promotes bowel evacuation. Mayapple does this by by stimulating peristalsis.
Anthelmintic: an agent that destroys or causes the expulsion of parasitic intestinal worms.

*these are not safe uses for mayapple*

Symptoms of toxicity include “altered mental states, tachypnea, peripheral neuropathy, nausea, hypotension, vomiting, and fever, as well as muscle paralysis with respiratory failure, renal failure, hallucinations, and seizures.”

cited sources:



Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)


rue anemone range mapRue anemone is a woodland perennial native to eastern North America. It is a small plant, typically growing four to eight inches tall. A true springtime ephemeral, it blooms mid-April to June, before setting seed and going dormant until the following year. Its blooms can be either white or pink.

Rue Anemone Range Map (enlarged)

All parts of the plant are mildly toxic, and the foliage is largely ignored by native wildlife. Contact with the sap can cause inflammation and blistering of the skin. Ingesting large amounts of the plant can lead to vomiting and diarrhea. However, the toxin is destroyed by heat, which renders the tuberous root edible after cooking.

rue anemone leaves
leaves of rue anemone

Interestingly, a tea made from the roots has astringent properties, and has been used in the treatment of diarrhea and vomiting.

Rue anemone can be confused with Anemone quinequefolia (Wood anemone) and Enemion biternatum (false rue anemone), having similar flowers and preferring similar growing conditions. However, the foliage is notably different.

From left to right: False rue anemone, wood anemone, and rue anemone

T. thalictroides was formerly classified as Anemonella thalictroides. Another common name is meadow rue.

Wood anemone identification

False rue anemone identification

More photos of rue anemone

Nettle (Urtica dioica)

Urtica dioica (Stinging nettle)
Urtica dioica (Stinging nettle)
Stinging hairs of nettle
Stinging hairs of nettle

Urtica dioica, commonly known as stinging nettle, is well known for the burning, itchy rash it causes when you come into contact with its stinging hairs. But lesser known is its value as an edible and medicinal plant.

Cooking removes the stinging chemicals from the plant, rendering it edible. As a cooked green, nettle is said to taste similar to spinach, and can be used in place of it in recipes.

Nettle is a nutritional powerhouse. It contains silica and other minerals needed to promote healthy hair, skin and nails, and is rich in numerous vitamins and minerals such as vitamins A, C, E, and K, iron, potassium, manganese, and calcium. Nettle leaves contain up to 25% protein by dry weight. It is best harvested for edible use in the spring, before it has flowered or set seed. For ideas on how to cook nettle, click here.

U. dioica. The underside of nettle leaves are usually devoid of stinging hairs.
U. dioica. The underside of nettle leaves are usually devoid of stinging hairs.

Nettle has shown much value in the treatment of allergies. It has been used for this purpose for centuries, particularly for hay fever (seasonal allergies), the most common allergy problem. Nettle has anti-inflammatory and antihistamine properties. This makes it effective for the treatment of eczema, hives, and asthma as well.

Unlike conventional allergy medications, nettle has been shown to be effective without the risk of side effects, and its effectiveness does not lessen over time as conventional treatments can tend to do. For this purpose, nettle can be taken daily in capsule form, or made into a tea. A tea can be made using 3 or 4 teaspoons of dried nettle leaves in 2/3 cup of water. A stronger infusion has been known to treat allergy symptoms within minutes.

Leaves and seeds of slender nettle (Urtica gracilis)
Slender nettle (Urtica gracilis) leaves and seeds. Slender nettle has narrower leaves and fewer stinging hairs than stinging nettle, and often grows much taller (up to 7 feet).

Stinging nettle has the effect of increasing a mother’s milk supply. (1) It has also been used in conjunction with other herbs, such as Prunus africana (red stinkwood) and Serenoa repens (saw palmetto) for the treatment of an inflamed or enlarged prostate. A combination of nettle and Thymus vulgaris (common thyme), Glycyrrhiza glabra (licorice), Vitis vinifera (common grape vine) and Alpinia officinarum (lesser galangal) has been used as an antihemorrhagic. (2)

Canada wood nettle (Laportea canadensis)
Canada wood nettle (Laportea canadensis)

Stinging nettle tea helps to clear excess uric acid from the body, relieving the pain and inflammation of gout. Due to its ability to decrease blood sugar, it can be helpful for those who suffer from diabetes. And alongside vitamin C and cranberries, it is helpful in the treatment of urinary tract infections. It eases the inflammation of the bladder and urethra, soothing the pain, and promotes urination, flushing the body of the harmful bacteria.

Treatment of Nettle Stings.

Interestingly, the juice of the nettle leaves themselves, as an antihistamine, can be used to treat the welts associated with a nettle rash. Other readily available natural treatments include jewelweed, the common lawn weed plantain, or baking soda. In a pinch you can always use urine (although I am personally uncertain how desperate one would have to be to urinate on themselves). 🙂

Urtica dioica
Urtica dioica
urtica dioica
Urtica dioica


Nettle’s properties make it useful against a long list of maladies. Besides those listed above, it is beneficial in the treatment of: arthritis, bronchitis, bursitis, gingivitis, laryngitis, rhinitis, sinusitis, tendinitis, rheumatism and other inflammatory conditions, as well as high blood pressure, hair loss, anemia, excessive menstruation, hemorrhoids, neuralgia, Alzheimer’s disease, kidney stones, multiple sclerosis, PMS, and sciatica. Forgive me for not covering all of them in the article! 😀

1. galactagogue: a food or drug that promotes or increases the flow of a mother’s milk.

2. antihemorrhagic: a substance that promotes hemostasis (stops bleeding). Also known as a hemostatic.

Poison Hemlock, Water Hemlock, and Fool’s Parsley

Poison Hemlock (conium maculatum)
Poison Hemlock (conium maculatum)
Conium maculatum
Conium maculatum

Conium maculatum (poison hemlock) is a highly poisonous perennial introduced and naturalized in North America. Poison hemlock is infamous as the plant responsible for the poisoning of the philosopher Socrates after he was condemned to death for impiety in 399 BC. The toxin, coniine, is concentrated mostly in the root and seeds. About six to eight of the fresh leaves contain enough poison to cause respiratory paralysis, leading to death. However, death can be prevented by use of artificial ventilation until the toxin wears off 48-72 hours later, when spontaneous recovery typically occurs.

water hemlock3
Spotted Water Hemlock (Cicuta maculata)

Poisoning via coniine is a tame death compared to that of the toxic compound found in Water Hemlock. Water hemlock (Cicuta spp.) is extremely poisonous; it is considered North America’s most toxic plant. Even touching the plant can cause poisoning. Water hemlock has been known to cause death to livestock in as little as 15 minutes. Ingestion of any amount of this plant can result in death or permanent damage to the central nervous system.

The toxin, cicutoxin, is found throughout the plant and is most concentrated in the roots. Nausea, vomiting, and tremors occur within 30-60 minutes of ingestion, followed by severe cramps, projectile vomiting, and painful convulsions; death can occur within a few hours. Ouch. Did I mention that it’s poisonous?

C. bulbifera
C. bulbifera

There are four species of water hemlock in North America:  C. maculata, C. bulbifera, C. douglasii, and C. virosa. They are so-named because they grow in wet meadows, along streambanks, and other wet and marshy areas. All species of water hemlock are highly poisonous. C. maculata (spotted water hemlock) has the most widespread distribution, followed by C. bulbiferia.

From Left to Right: C. maculata, C. bulbifera, C. virosa, C. douglasii
From Left to Right: C. maculata, C. bulbifera, C. virosa, C. douglasii

Most accidental cases of poisonings by water hemlock are due to its resemblance to the edible water parsnip, sium suave. A very unfortunate resemblance, indeed. With all the wild edible plants that are available, I believe I will just leave this one in the water.

However, the edible Queen Anne’s Lace (also known as wild carrot, Daucus carota) can be readily distinguished from poison hemlock and water hemlock, so long as you know what to look for. (Make the distinction at your own risk and PLEASE never harvest a plant if you aren’t 100 percent sure of what you are harvesting.)

All of these plants have similar umbels of white flowers. However, Queen Anne’s lace often has a single dark flower in the center as a distinguishing feature. If you see this, you can be certain of the identification.

Queen Anne’s Lace

Another defining characteristic is the stems. Queen Anne’s lace has hairy stems, whereas all species of hemlock have smooth, hairless stems. Spotted hemlock has characteristic purple splotches or streaks on the stem.

Left to Right: Water Hemlock, Poison hemlock, and Queen Anne's lace
Left to Right: Water Hemlock, Poison hemlock, and Queen Anne’s lace

If you are planning on harvesting and eating Queen Anne’s lace, the final indicator is the smell. The whole plant smells like a carrot. If you crush the stem a little, you will smell it. If it does not smell like a carrot, it is not Queen Anne’s lace. DO NOT EAT IT. And wash your hands.

Fool’s parsley (Aethusa cynapium)

Fool's Parsley (Aethusa cynapium)

Fool’s parsley, another poisonous lookalike, can cause pain and vomiting, as well as a burning sensation in the mouth and throat. It can be identified by the long beard-like bracts that hang below the secondary flower clusters.  It can be distinguished from Queen Anne’s lace by the lack of hairs on the stem.

fools parsley1
Fool’s Parsley (Aethusa cynapium)

Water hemlock identification:

Poison hemlock identification: