ADVISORY: Make sure you always consult face to face with a specialist before applying any remedy. The following article does not substitute professional medical advice.
Also known by other names like Dogs Parsley, Aethusa cynapium, Poison Parsley, Dog Bane, and the lesser hemlock, Fool’s Parsley is an annual herb of the Umbelliferae, plant family. The herb is native to northwest Africa, Western Asia, and some European regions like Southern Finland.
Fool’s Parley is the only species of its genus but thrives in different variations that are subdivided into different subspecies, forms, and varieties. There are four types in Finland, which often appear different with their sizes varying from 10 cm-1.5m. Budding usually begins in June and continues until the end of autumn.
It is also associated with Water-dropwort and Hemlock, though believed to be poisonous. Areas where the herb grows as a common weed in gardens like Central Europe experience occasional poisonings. It contains harmful alkaloids such that, even a small amount causes poisoning and larger proportions can lead to death.
How to Differentiate the Herb from Parsley
The herb deceptively takes on the appearance of edible parsley (Petroselinumcrispum). However, Fool’s Parsley is fatally toxic. Patients exposed to the plant’s poison should seek medical help immediately. It’s important to find a doctor, as its effects are cumulative in nature. To begin with, the leaves of the herb do not emit the spicy smell of parsley but an unpleasant onion-like scent.
Additionally, most parsley species that grow in Finland have curly leaves- a distinguishing factor from the herb. The parsley herb also thrives in old gardens or wastelands with overgrown weeds and has roots that look like radishes or young turnips. Other distinguishing characteristics include:
- Habitat: as earlier highlighted, the herb thrives in open spaces that are found primarily on wastelands, margins of arable land, and disturbed ground. The pasture provides lots of light, space, and is rich in nutrients for its existence.
- The arrangement of flowers: the small white flowers are arranged in a flat cluster. Each flower sprouts into five petals. The location of the bracts distinguishes it from spicy parsley plant as they are attached underneath the flower head. Also, the flowers occur in 3-5 groups and are thin, curved, and hang conspicuously under the flower’s head. They are not uniformly distributed on the underside of the flower head but adopt a beard-like feature.
- Height: the herb has a height of 50cm, which is usually much shorter than the ordinary spicy parsley. The feature also distinguishes it from other umbellifers like the giant hogweed and the Heracleummantegazzianum that grow as high as five meters.
- Seeds: the seeds of the herb are small, egg-shaped, and finely-grooved. Their shape makes them very specific to the herb and requires close examination.
- A hollow stem: it has a uniform green color and is hollow. Though it appears delicate, it is very sturdy and stiff considering its reduced height.
- The shape of leaves: this herb has triangular leaves, a common feature among many umbellifers that adopt the same form. The pinnate (leaves divided to have opposite pairs of leaflets) shape differentiates them from other plants as very few plant species have pinnate leaves.
Symptoms of Parsley Poisoning
Some of the symptoms of parsley poisoning include:
- Inflammation of the throat and the mouth
- Blurred vision.
- Skeletal paralysis.
- Duodenal congestion.
- Abdominal pain
- Pupil dilation.
How the Herb Disrupts Gastrointestinal Problems
Historically, the herb was used to fight digestive problems like cholera infantum (a type of fatal childhood gastroenteritis). However, today the herb is occasionally used in folk medicinal remedies for gastrointestinal problems like summer diarrhea in children, sedative purposes, and to alleviate convulsions.
Though poisonous, the dried form of the herb loses most of its toxicity and is crushed to make an effective remedy for infants who have diarrhea during the teething phase. Most parents believe that teething causes diarrhea. However, there is little medical evidence to support a causal relationship between a kid’s teething phase and gastrointestinal problems.
The most common belief is that excessive saliva during teething affects the alimentary system. Additionally, during teething, children put anything in their mouth to ease discomfort; most of these items are not clean, causing diarrhea. A homemade recipe is usually used to ameliorate the problem.
The recipe is also used to combat cholera infantum. This inflammatory disorder affects children during summer months. It was more prevalent in previous years where it even caused the death of affected kids. The stomachic infection was characterized by high fever (102-104 degrees Fahrenheit), lots of diarrhea, and bowel discharges that are accompanied by straining stool and pain.
All these symptoms increase gradually until the vomiting becomes severe. The child also looks emaciated and may die within 24 hours if he does not receive professional help. The stool has a whitish-yellow color or tinged with green on the outset with lumps of milk curd as the condition worsens.
Cholera infantum that lasts more than 24 hours takes up other variations of the disease- summer diarrhea, dysentery, gastrointestinal catarrh, summer complaint, gastritis, gastro enteritis, and enterocolitis.
Recipes that include fool’s parsley should contain minimal amounts of the herb as it is extremely poisonous. Users should seek advice from folk medicine practitioners who have used the recipes in the past before administering the remedy on their children.