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.
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
Smell: unknown, may have no scent
Taste: bitter followed by a burning sensation, and then numbing
- There are many species of aconite.
- They are all poisonous and all parts of the plant are poisonous. The root is especially toxic.
- 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.
- 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.
A Modern Herbal by Margaret Grieve
image by Enrico Blasutto , Wikipedia.org
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