So just for a change, I thought I’d write about an extremely poisonous plant growing in my garden.
This deceptively beautiful plant is called monkshood (Aconitum napellus). Also known as wolfsbane, devil’s helmet, queen of poisons – and aconite. The poison is concentrated in the root. It’s a potent and fast-acting neurotoxin and cardiotoxin, so symptoms (prior to death!) include blurred vision, tremors and seizures, cardiac arrest – that sort of thing. It’s said to have been used by many ancient civilisations and tribes, from the Romans to tribes in China, Japan and India, often to poison the tips of spears and arrows. The name wolfsbane is said to originate from it being used to kill wolves.
There are many tales of it poisoning people. However, according to The Poison Garden website, the only well-established case of murder with aconite was in 1881 when a doctor poisoned his brother-in-law. But there have been a few documented cases of accidental death and murder from ingesting it in the 21st century!
Aconite, as it is best known to herbalists and homeopaths, does have therapeutic properties. It may be used externally, in a cream or ointment, for painful conditions such as rheumatism, sciatica and neuralgia. It’s safe to take orally in homeopathic form (homeopathic tinctures and tablets contain only a ‘memory’ of a substance). When using it as a cream, certain precautions need to be taken, like not using it on broken skin.
I only cultivate monkshood because it is such a stunning plant, you’ll be pleased to know – as you can see in the photo. This year, I have planted wildflower seed all around it, and can’t wait to see what other colours are going to pop up around it. (I’ll post photos when they do!)