It may look and smell like wild parsnip, but it's not.
"Water hemlock is probably the most poisonous plant that grows in the United States," writes Dr. Dennis Landers, an Idaho poison expert who reports that a 22-year-old man died after eating the plant's root.
"Because of the 'Euell Gibbons' concept of 'returning to nature,' " he writes, "many people are experimenting with 'living off the land.' "
Such a practice is dangerous, he writes, because "there is a very thin line between edible and poisonous plants, and when a mistake is made while on a rafting trip, the victims are away from all medical help . . ."
Two of eight people on a rafting trip on Oregon's Owhyee River suffered seizures, which began about an hour after eating the plant, he writes in a paper called "Seizure and Death on a White River Float Trip." One died of cardiac arrest.
A tablespoon of soap in a cup of water can be used to induce vomiting, he writes, but that is no guarantee of safety.
The American Medical Association publishes a book on poisonous plants. Worried campers can send $18.95, plus $2.50 for delivery and handling, to Chicago Review Press, 213 W. Institute Pl., Chicago, Ill. 60610.