Cattle-Poisoning by Water Dropwort


    WE have received from Mr. C. B. Moffat, of Ennis-corthy, a note written at the suggestion of Mr. R. J. Moss, registrar of the Royal Dublin Society, in which the question is asked, “Is Oenanthe crocata wholesome food?” The question is put owing to the fact that about a month ago Mr. Moffat had occasion to observe a. herd of cows browsing on this plant, and had been able to satisfy himself that no injurious effects resulted. As he justly remarks, the records of death from eating this plant leave no doubt as to its usually poisonous character. He cites a case, investigated by Mr, Moss in 1917, in which roots of this plant were found among the stomachic contents of four cows found dead on land that had been flooded. He is, therefore, led to inquire whether the poison is confined to the roots or if at particular seasons or in particular localities the green parts of the water drop-wort are innocuous. Gornevin (“Plantes Vénénexises”) has stated that this plant, on which animals readily browse, leads to cases of poisoning every year; that all parts of the plant are toxic, the root being particularly so; and that drying does not destroy the noxious principle. Holmes (Pharm. Journ., 1902, p. 431) refers to Oenanthe crocata as perhaps the most dangerous and virulently poisonous of our native plants. Long (“Plants Poisonous to Live Stock,” p. 37) has more recently cited a formidable number of specific English instances confirming the judgment of Cornevin and Holmes. Nevertheless, notwithstanding the silence of these distinguished authorities on the point, the question raised by Mr. Moffat is not new. So long ago as 1845 an authority so eminent as the late Sir Robert Christison (“Poisons,“p. 860) explained that while this plant has usually been held to be one of the most virulent of European vegetables, and seems well entitled to this character in general, yet climate or some other more obscure cause renders it inert in some situations. As Christison pointed out, the plant has been the subject of an uninterrupted series of observations since 1570, wThen Lobel directed attention to its poisonous properties. These observations show that in France, Germany, Holland, Spain, and various parts of England so far north as Liverpool it is actively poisonous at all seasons of the year. Yet the careful experiments undertaken by Christison, while proving the virulence of the plant as grown near Woolwich and near Liverpool, showed that the same species as grown near Edinburgh is devoid of toxic properties. It is singular that little more is known now than Christison knew, and it is to be hoped that those competent to deal with the matter may be induced to undertake the research which is required to settle the questions raised by Mr. Moffat's confirmation from County Wexford of Sir Robert Christison's experience of three-quarters of a century ago as regards Midlothian.

    Rights and permissions

    Reprints and Permissions

    About this article

    Cite this article

    Cattle-Poisoning by Water Dropwort. Nature 101, 354 (1918).

    Download citation


    By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.