It can feel like finding the mythical pot of gold at the end of a rainbow when you come across a cluster of these beautiful mushrooms on a shady woodland floor. They are the most widely commercially harvested wild fungi in Scotland, loving our damp, mild climate and extensive birch and beech woodlands and are highly esteemed by chefs.
Hemlock is not the common species it once was, especially in farming areas like Galloway. It is as toxic to livestock as it is to humans, so farmers have all but eliminated it from inland areas. It is most commonly found coastally, having a preference for sandy soils, but that’s not to say it doesn’t lurk inland too.
Anyone picking spring leaves, especially comfrey or wild garlic, should be able to recognise this plant by its basal leaves alone. 2 leaves can contain sufficient cardiac and steroidal glycocides to cause severe hallucination, nausea, headache and raise or lower your heart rate rate to fatal levels
Hemlock water-dropwort has a fascinating history. Its very toxicity once held it in high esteem when capital punishment was more common, and easy methods of execution valued. A “sardonic” smile, is a direct reference to the widespread use of HWD in Sardinia where a decoction of its roots were used to administer death sentences.
Every year, round about mid July, I start to get twitchy. My driving gets even more erratic, I start to walk with a stoop, and my pulse quickens whenever I catch a glimpse of mossy woodland. This is the onset of Influenza mycologica, or Fungi Fever…