Tag Archive | poison

Wolfsbane – Keeping the Wolves at Bay

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.

The Wolfman


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.

from Max

Planning A Poison Garden

“Behind the walls of my apothecary garden are other rare and even more dangerous plants. Many I acquired without fully understanding their uses – perhaps I found a name mentioned in some obscure, ancient medical text, or came upon an old cure related by a beggar who claimed to have heard it from an ancient witch woman he met once. Based upon such vague hints and clues, and often following nothing more than my own blind instincts, I have bought and traded plants from all over the world. The most powerful ones live behind that locked gate.”

from “The Poison Diaries” by Jane Northumberland

Continue reading

The Mysterious Mandrake

An Old Manuscript Depicts the Human Qualities of the Mandrake Root

I’ve always been interested in folk lore. The tales associated with the root of the Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum) are pretty lurid. It is said that the gnarly, twisted roots are shaped like humans and that they come in male and female forms, presumably mating under the ground to propagate. Continue reading

Noxious Wildflower To Avoid

Beware This Beautiful Wildflower That Can Burn You

Gardeners, hikers, campers and most especially children — in fact, anyone who spends time outdoors — should be on the alert for a dangerous weed that can be found in the Northeast and Pacific Northwest and increasingly in many other states. It’s a strikingly tall and attractive plant, with enormous leaves and a hoola-hoop-sized flower head with clusters of tiny white flowers. Strangely enough, it’s also a member of the carrot family.

Continue reading