A Writers Guide to Monkshood

monkshood

monkshood

Monkshood is an herbaceous plant belonging to the buttercup family that grows up to 3 feet in height. The leaves are dark green and palmate. At the top of the stems are large blue, purple, pink, yellow, or white clusters of flowers — blue and purple being the most common. The flowers are uniquely shaped with the posterior sepal forming a helmet or hood.

Particulars

Botanical Name: Aconitum

Common/Folk Names: Aconite, Auld Wife’s Huid, Blue Rocket, Devil’s Helmet, Friar’s Cap, Leopard’s Bane, Monk’s Blood, Monkshood, Mousebane, Queen of all Poisons, Venus’ Chariot, Wolfsbane, Wolf’s Bane, and Women’s Bane.

Life Cycle: perennial
Habitat: mountain meadows, moisture-retentive but well-draining soils
Blooms: summer

Smell: unknown, may have no scent
Taste: bitter followed by a burning sensation, and then numbing

Notes

  • There are many species of aconite.
  • They are all poisonous and all parts of the plant are poisonous. The root is especially toxic.

History

  • Aconite has highly toxic alkaloids. There are two groups: the Aconitines Proper which includes Aconitine, Japaconitine, and Indaconitine; and the Pseudaconitines which includes Pseudaconitine and Bikhaconitine.
  • Manifestations of monkshood poisoning appear almost immediately (normally no later than an hour). Death usually occurs within two to six hours in fatal poisoning. With large doses death is almost instantaneous.
  • Symptoms are gastrointestinal and include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. This is followed by a sensation of burning, tingling, and numbness in the mouth and face as well as a burning feeling in the abdomen. In severe poisonings, motor weakness can occur in addition to tingling and numbness of the skin. Cardiovascular symptoms include hypotension, sinus bradycardia, and ventricular arrhythmias. Other symptoms may include sweating, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, headache, and confusion.
  • The major physiological antidote is atropine, which comes from belladonna.
  • Toxins extracted from the plant were used to kill wolves, hence the name wolf’s bane.
  • Several species of Aconitum have been used as arrow poisons in several cultures including Ladakh (India), Japanese, Chinese, and the Aleuts of Alaska. (The Aleuts used it for hunting whales.)
  • Aconite has been used in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (Hindu traditional medicine).
  • Aconite was described in Greek and Roman medicine by Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Pliny the Elder.
  • In January 2009, the British “Curry Killer” Lakhvir Singh, killed her ex-lover Lakhvinder Cheema with a curry dish laced with Indian Aconite.

Lore

  • Ancient Greek mythology explains that the plant comes from Cerberus’ spittle, the three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hell. It has been noted that the symptoms of aconite poisoning in humans is similar to rabies: frothy saliva, impaired vision, vertigo, and finally a coma.
  • Spells and rituals use monkshood for baneful magic, death magic, protection, and invisibility.

In the Language of Flowers, it means: beware, a deadly foe is near, misanthropy, treachery

This is a reference for fiction writers and should not be taken as medical or spiritual advice.

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29 Comments

  1. Hi Holly – this one I will avoid! I knew aconite – the yellow one – was poisonous .. but it sounds more ‘deadly’ than usual … gorgeous photo of it .. cheers Hilary

    1. They are so pretty though. There is also a yellow variety that looks closer to a buttercup called ‘winter aconite’. Pretty much anything in this genus is extremely poisonous.

  2. With a nickname of Queen of all Poisons, yeah I’d have to say it’s really poisonous.
    Cool that it’s connected to Cerberus and Greek mythology.

    1. I love all the mythology that springs up around plant, especially poisonous plants.

  3. I always wondered what kind of poison people put on poison tipped arrows!

    1. There are other plants, too. They called all plants alkaloid arrow poisons curare. I think they also use frogs.

  4. Such a beautiful plant to be poisonous. With a name like Monkshood you would think it would be a helpful herb (but then I guess it is if you’re trying to kill someone).

  5. That image reminds me of an upside down Lady’s Slipper, but the deadly effects are quite wicked.

  6. I don’t recall ever seeing this one. I’ll surely avoid it. Yikes.

  7. But it’s so pretty! This would be a great one to work into a story because of it’s beauty…a subtle ruse to assassinate someone. =)

  8. Gotta keep this one on hand in order to protect oneself from werewolves, right?

  9. Wow! I think I’ll make sure to avoid that one. I loved how thoroughly you listed the symptoms and all the details! Excellent research! I especially like the language of flowers reference. 🙂

  10. Oh my gosh. I love it. So pretty.

  11. Beautiful and terrifying! Oh I need a storyline to use this now! X

  12. Monkshood is wolfsbane? I had no idea. I like one other name you mentioned: Queen of all Poisons. That just lays it right out there, huh? Great post!!

    1. I didn’t know they were the same plant either. I do wonder who the King of all Poisons is though. I haven’t discovered it yet.

      1. Found it. The king is arsenic…shoulda figured.

  13. Useful information for someone (like me!) who likes to kill people off in their books – thank you!

    1. Good thing you tacked on the “in their books”!

  14. I did not know what that was. It grows wild in the cemetery out back! Now I know–thank you!

    1. Sounds like an auspicious place for it to grow.

  15. So – do not touch them under no circumstances 🙂

    1. That would be best. 🙂

  16. This is one deadly flower! So beautiful and so dangerous. I feel a metaphor coming on.

  17. This was fascinating, I didn’t realize it’s poisonous. I have something in my garden that looks very much like this. I’ll e going out for a closer look at it now! This post has just given me a great idea how to poison a character in a non-tech world. Thanks! (Although the character won’t be thanking you…)
    I’m off to study your writer’s guide to crystals. I am an obsessive stone-freak!

    1. I’m glad it helped. I’m a stone-freak, too. 🙂

  18. Sounds deadly flower. I’ve been reading a bit lately on poisonous flowers.

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H.R. Sinclair © 2016
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