Aconitum napellus (Aconite), better known as Monkshood for the helmet-like sepal that covers the rest of the flower, has a long history as both a deadly weapon and an herbal remedy. It is a member of the buttercup family and is a hearty perrenial. The flowers come in a range of colors including blues, yellow, white and pinks. It’s other common name, Wolfsbane, is said to have come from the plant’s use in keeping wolves at bay. Villagers used the toxic sap to coat arrows that would kill the unwanted animal.
The ancient Roman naturalist Plinius, better known as Pliny the Elder, referred to it as “plant arsenic.” In Ovid’s Metamorphoses, the evil sorceress Medea conspires to kill the hero Theseus by offering him a cup infused with the deadly poison. Fortunately for him, her plan was foiled. Had he drank from the cup, his death would have been painful, but relatively fast. Even a small amount of exposure to the roots can produce tingling and numbness, and large-scale exposure can induce nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rapid heartbeat and death.
The European variety, although poisonous enough to be deadly, is not as toxic as the Asian variety, and yet even the Asian variety has been used in healing medicine for centuries as well as in the preparation of poisons. Aconite can trigger hallucinations. I has been used to slow the pulse and as a sedative for heart palpitations. The use of aconite in medicine is probably at the basis of its connection with werewolves, as is the legend that it was given its poisonous qualities from the slobber of Cerberus during Hercules’ fight with that ferocious dog of Hades.
By the way, the seed, wrapped in a lizard’s skin and carried allows you to become invisible at will. I gotta go catch me a lizard…. Anyway, if you are looking to do in a werewolf this Halloween, go for the silver bullet, as wolfsbane merely slows ’em down. Ditto for vampires.
Even a man who is pure in heart
and says his prayers by night
may become a wolf
when the wolfbane blooms
and the autumn moon is bright.
A little ditty from the 1941 movie, The Wolfman.
When you are deciding where to plant your kale this year, pick a spot that would allow you to cover your plants in the late fall. This year, despite one of the coldest winters in quite some time, the kale I left in my garden bed, covered only by a floating row cover, has made an incredible comeback and is providing me with the first garden veggies — even before my asparagus and rhubarb!