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LEAF STEM CROSS-SECTIONS
Below are some of the commoner and easily confused species of Umbellifer when it comes to foraging. There are many more species we could include but the following eight species will give you a good start on learning the differences between some edible members of the umbellifer family as well as some seriously poisonous ones. Of course you should never rely on just one aspect to confidently identify a species 100%, these features below should be used in conjunction with leaf shape, flower appearance, habitat, smell and any other diagnostics. We have found however that the shape of the leaf stem (i.e the bit on the leaf not the main flowering stem), does allow to see some obvious differences between species. Remember some of the plants below are poisonous and some react with sun light if you get the sap on your hands so take care and only ever forage something YOU know 100% what it is.
Sweet Cicely (Myrrhis odorata) - strongly smells of aniseed, espeically when crushed. Stem round and hollow. Leaf stem round with a slight 'U' at the top and can be hollow which is more noticable towards the base of the leaf stem. Edible
Cow Parsley (Anthriscus sylestris) - variable in colour, usually green but can be tinged to fully purple in some specimens (those growing under stress), slight downy. Edge of stem has slight ridges. Leaf stem 'V' shaped with a hollow stem towards the leaf stem base, less so at leaf end. Edible
Hemlock (Conium maculatum) - stem spotted purple with a 'mouse' smell, unpleasant, not really downy or hairy. Stem round and hollow. Leaf stem round and hollow. Deadly Poisonous
Wild Celery (Apium graveolens) - distinctive celery smell when crushed. Stem heavily ridged. Leaf stem typical 'celery' shape, shallow 'V' on the top with deep ridges on the bottom. Edible
Hemlock Water-dropwort (Oenanthe crocata) - stem very uneven, with shallow ridges, can be hollow depending on age. Leaf stem uneven and angular, filled with pith. Deadly Poisonous
Common Hogweed (Heracleum sphondylium) - variable in colour from deep purple to green, hairy, ridged. Stem almost like a bolt with regular ridges and hollow centre. Leaf stem overall a deep 'V' shape with a shallow 'U' on the top. Sap can cause skin irriations and should not be touched, especially in bright sun-light, wear good quality gloves if handling this plant. Whilst it is edible when young we recommend extreme caution if you are a novice to this species and unsure about how to harvest it safely.
Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) - thick round stem, often appears stripy on closer examination. Stem firm and filled with pith. Leaf stem loosely 'U' shape with a slight flat top part. Edible
Wild Angelica (Angelica sylvestris) - stem has a distinctive 'U' shape on one side of the main stem, it is also hollow. The leaf stem is just a smaller version of the main stem, with a 'U' shape at the top and hollow in the middle. Edible