This has taken me over a year to fess up but wandering around the river at Kyneton this morning has pricked my conscience and I have swallowed my pride... forgive me my brothers for I have partaken... but hey it’s a serious warning.
It started really well, I had been in town and scored a great 60’s bookcase at Joel’s and found the right flooring for the new “don’t call it a studio” studio and also got quite a few urgent jobs done. So when Diane greeted me with the welcome “do you want a coffee? “ when I got home, my rampant enthusiasm was further stoked. Because she had just had one, she presented me with the full double dose long espresso from the new machine, just roasted beans great fuel.
Over the preceding months walks along the river revealed some great plants. Blackberries, feral fruit trees all sorts of wild forrageable foods? Among these we also saw great flushes of a very attractive umbriferous plant that Diane had called wild parsnip. After my coffee I noticed that the small self sown ‘wild parsnip” that I had been watching in the vegie garden had grown considerably and I picked it.
It had a long straight root a bit like salsify or indeed parsnip.
I tasted it and it had a stringy outer layer but the inner root was delightfully sweet and really moreish delicious. Light bulbs went off... hey a new ingredient in such abundance that it will surely inflame the neophilic foodie culture so “on point” for these wild food days.
Intrigued as to why no one else in say, Northcote, Denmark or Brooklyn had promoted this discovery I went to the culinary books in the shed and it all started to go pear shaped very quickly. Apparently the more common name for this “wild parsnip” is Poison Hemlock. Now this did not look really good as I had eaten a good couple of inches of the inside of the core root. I quickly consulted the online oracles and it was really looking a bit serious.
I rang the poisons department hot line and a very calm young man after about 6 key identifying questions suggested that I grab the plant and get my arse off to the hospital as soon as possible. On arrival at the Kyneton hospital at the emergency department they were already getting the equipment ready to get me hooked up to various beeping machines in the ambulance that was waiting with doors open. Mr Poisons Department had already rung the hospital and I was quickly put on a cardiogram and a drip input was poked into my arm. With thick rubber gloves they examined the ‘Parsnip’ and placed it in a labelled bag and very quickly I was on my way to Royal Melbourne Hospital. The ambulance was apparently better equipped to deal with what might eventuate in the next 60 minutes than the emergency dept of the hospital.
Now those of you who know me will attest to my wowser like boring stance on wild fungi and indiscriminate foraging.
The Do Not Taste Without Expert Identification sermon that I always sprout has over the years led to my withdrawing from hosting fungi forays in the dread of someone later innocently tasting a toxic fungus or worse serving one in a restaurant. So now flat out and wired up in the ambulance I am fantasizing the twitter conversations and Facebook comments and such tut tutting after the death notices appear....
But clearly it did not kill me but the ride down to town was full of apprehension and I might say a little humour.
The ambos had forgiven me for dragging them off the beat with my stupidity and were quite engaged as they had never had a case of hemlock poisoning before. So iPads came out and a constant communication was being kept with the emergency dept in Melbourne. I had my phone so I was also getting an education in Hemlock pharmacology. We went through the identification with some detail. Yes hollow stem, yes all the colours habitat etc matched perfectly We had the Socrates jokes but my toes and other extremities had not started to lose feeling and I was apart from being pissed off that I had been so careless feeling OK. . All bodily functions were beeping normally. We all found from various sources that eating the root was one of the most potent parts. That did nothing for my well being but also nothing to the beeps on the monitors. As the interest waned in my demise the ambos explained to me in detail of why the graffiti for better conditions was scrawled all over the van and I got a good education on the shit conditions they had to work with. Now that at least has thankfully been fixed. But at the time made me feel even more guilty. Then on a legit medical website we saw that one of the suggested antidotes to Hemlock poisoning was caffeine... and I started to feel a little better. But on arrival at emergency the registrar grabbed my bag of ‘wild parsnips’ whisked me into a cubicle and hooked me up to more wires. I told him of the big double dose of caffeine I had ingested and he just looked at me with bemusement Hmm 2 inches of root you say? Shakes head. After a further hour of observation I was evicted from the cubicle into the hall and told to let them know if I was feeling wonky. Then after a further 2 hours I was released just in time to catch the last train back to Kyneton. I had survived eating poison hemlock and yes it did taste OK. Thanks RMH. So when you see the beautiful flushes of this ubiquitous weed all along the Campaspe, the Barwon or in your vegie beds take care. It really is everywhere and possibly we should be more alerted to its dangers. Apparently children using the hollow stalks for pea shooters have been poisoned and quail and other game birds [that it does not affect] that have eaten the seeds can also be poisonous.
So another one for the sermon.
Hope you got the invite Di’s excited.