from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.

  • noun An acute, now rare disease characterized by trembling, vomiting, and severe intestinal pain that affects individuals who eat dairy products or meat from a cow that has fed on white snakeroot.

from The Century Dictionary.

  • noun A malignant disease, occurring in some parts of the United States, which affects certain kinds of farm stock, and also persons who eat the flesh or dairy products of cattle so infected.

from the GNU version of the Collaborative International Dictionary of English.

  • (Veter., Med.) A peculiar malignant disease, occurring in parts of the western United States, and affecting certain kinds of farm stock (esp. cows), and persons using the meat or dairy products of infected cattle. Its chief symptoms in man are uncontrollable vomiting, obstinate constipation, pain, and muscular tremors. Its origin in cattle has been variously ascribed to the presence of certain plants in their food, and to polluted water.

from Wiktionary, Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.

  • noun A condition, with trembling and vomiting, caused by ingestion of milk, meat, etc. from a cow that has fed on white snakeroot, which contains the poison tremetol.

from WordNet 3.0 Copyright 2006 by Princeton University. All rights reserved.

  • noun disease of livestock and especially cattle poisoned by eating certain kinds of snakeroot
  • noun caused by consuming milk from cattle suffering from trembles


Sorry, no etymologies found.


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  • "Even colonists with access to milk often avoided it because of fears of 'milk sickness' caused by consuming the milk of cows that had grazed on wild jimson weed."

    —Sarah Hand Meacham, Every Home a Distillery: Alcohol, Gender, and Technology in the Colonial Chesapeake (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 12

    June 7, 2010

  • "White Snakeroot contains the toxin tremetol; when the plants are consumed by cattle, the meat and milk become contaminated with the toxin. When milk or meat containing the toxin is consumed, the poison is passed onto humans. If consumed in large enough quantities, it can cause tremetol poisoning in humans. The poisoning is also called milk sickness, as humans often ingested the toxin by drinking the milk of cows that had eaten snakeroot.

    During the early 19th century, when large numbers of European Americans from the East, who were unfamiliar with snakeroot, began settling in the plant's habitat of the Midwest and Upper South, many thousands were killed by milk sickness. Notably, milk sickness was the cause of death in 1818 of Nancy Hanks Lincoln, mother of Abraham Lincoln."

    -- Wikipedia (

    October 2, 2012