Pick Your Poison


POISONOUS! The plant was introduced early on to England (found in records by the 10th century) where it now grows wild in some regions.  In old Anglo-Saxon days Aconite was called ‘thung’ which referred to any poisonous plant.  Then it gained the name Aconite (the English form of its Greek and Latin name), later Wolf’s Bane, derived from the ancient practice of arrows or traps tipped with the juice used to kill wolves.  In the middle Ages it became Monkshood and Helmet-flower, from the unusual shape of the flower head.  This was the ordinary name in Shakespeare’s days.  Confused?  It took me a while to associate the same herb with these various names.  Just for fun, I used them all in this next paragraph.

Although intrigued by monkshood, I haven’t grown this plant because it’s among the most poisonous herbs ever and I have children and pets that frequent my garden.  However, aconite is a beautiful perennial and I wish I could grow it.  I’ve admired the lovely blue flowers in old gardens I’ve visited and feel certain I could resist the temptation to nibble on its leaves or brew a tea from the roots.  I’d never mistake helmet flower for something else as some people have done to their peril.  But to be on the safe side, I don’t grow it.  I’ve read reports of people who grew ill just from smelling wolf’s bane.  The plant is said to have a distinctive and unpleasant taste so cases of poisoning are rare.  However, the less discerning among us will eat anything.

An interesting and informative article on aconite at The Poison Garden:

Aconite plays a significant role in my light paranormal romance, Somewhere My Love. The plant is sometimes used medicinally, though never by me, and should only be dispensed under the direction of an expert medical authority.  Aconite can be absorbed through the skin, especially openings in the skin.  Because of this, it shouldn’t be handled without gloves.  There are many homeopathy sites that discuss the use of Aconite for those of you who wish to further explore this. *Image linked to South Dublin Homeopathy.

For those of you who wish to grow it,  here’s an interesting site that offers vendors for aconite and discussion of the plants at: Davesgarden.com

From A Modern Herbal by Maude Grieve:
“The older herbalists described aconite as venomous and deadly. Gerard says: ‘There hath beene little heretofore set down concerning the virtues of the Aconite, but much might be saide of the hurts that have come thereby.’ It was supposed to be an antidote against other poisons. Gerard tells us that its power was ‘So forcible that the herb only thrown before the scorpion or any other venomous beast, causeth them to be without force or strength to hurt, insomuch that they cannot moove or stirre untill the herbe be taken away.’ Ben Jonson, in his tragedy Sejanus, says: ‘I have heard that Aconite Being timely taken hath a healing might Against the scorpion’s stroke.'”

From The Herb Book by John Lust:

“Caution: Monkshood is among the most poisonous of plants.  Small doses can cause painful death is a few hours. “Monkshood is a European perennial plant that is also cultivated in gardens in the U.S. and Canada. Various species grow wild in North America, particularly in mountainous regions. These are similarly poisonous.”

*Note, I’ve never heard of monkshood growing wild in the Alleghenies or Blue Ridge Mountains and can only find references to it in the far north, like Canada and Alaska, but there may be some rare incidences.  Please let me know if you are aware of any plants growing wild in the lower 48 states.  Never ingest or apply parts of any plant you’re not familiar with, or improperly informed about.

*This photograph is linked to the Plant Advice Site in the UK.

From: http://library.thinkquest.org/C007974/1_1com.htm

“Aconitine is one of the strongest plant poisons. At first, it acts as a stimulant but, after that, it paralyzes the nervous system. Doses of 2-5 mg can kill an adult. The symptoms of poisoning are oral paresthesias, abundant salivation, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. The skin becomes cool, the limbs become insensitive and the pulse accelerates. Death results from respiratory failure and cardiac arrest. Children may get poisoned if they hold tubers in their hands for a long time.

If it is carefully dosed, aconitine is applied externally as a painkiller in neuralgia in cases of rheumatism, headache, gout, migraine and colds accompanied with high body temperature. Several medicines are produced from tubers of low content of alkaloids. Due to its strong toxicity, the drug is very rarely used internally.

In homeopathy, Aconitum napellus is considered one of the most important medicinal plants. In Tibetan medicine, aconitine is the most valuable drug and is referred to as “the king of medicines.”’~

I say let the Tibetans do as they will and stay away from it, unless, of course, you’re using a detoxified derivation.  Be darn certain that you are, double, triple certain.  I’ll stick with the safe herbs and my green tea.

*More intriguing info on Aconite/wolfs bane/monkshood to follow.

4 responses to “Pick Your Poison

  1. Beth, you are a well of information about plants. I am saving this article. It will come useful when I need a poison for a romantic suspense novel. I think my aunt used to have these blue flowers in her garden. We called them “clochette” in French–bells. I never knew they were poisonus. But I remember her telling me when I was a kid, never to touch a flower and then touch my eyes. She said some flowers could cause blindness.


  2. Caroline Clemmons

    It is so easy to misuse the dangerous herbs. I’m just drinking green tea with you. LOL


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