Common monkshood, Friar'scap

Syn.: Garden wolfsbane
Aconitum napellus

The genus name Aconitum comes from the Greek term en akonias, which means “growing on bare rocks”. 

The common monkshood is a high plant with slim stem and beautiful blue blossoms. It is native to mountain slopes in Europe and east to the Himalayas. It grows on wet grassland, stony or rocky slopes, and near forest streams of altitude that is larger than 1200 m. During the blooming season, the plant is very prominent against the background of other plants and attracts the eye.

Wolfsbane is a perennial herb of the buttercup family Ranunculaceae. The plant is successfully cultivated, often as a decorative element in parks and home yards.

The common monkshood is one of the most poisonous plants of European flora. Since ancient times, people have known that it is poisonous and have used it as a weapon by coating their spears and arrowheads with its strong poison. The plant was used for killing panthers, wolves and other carnivores. The ancient Roman naturalist Plinius describes friar’s cap under the name “plant arsenic”. It was often used for criminal purposes.

When people got to know the effect of this plant, they tried to use it as a cure. In Chinese and Arabic folk medicine, its roots were used for the treatment of various diseases. Later on, Plinius told about its application in ophthalmology. As the healing dose was very difficult to determine, the plant could not assert itself as an important drug for a long time. In 1762, it was first introduced to medicine by the Viennese physician Anton von Störk but even after that, common monkshood did not find any permanent application.
Aconitum napellus

Alkaloids contained in the plant are responsible for its poisonous effect. Their highest concentration, from 0.2 to 3%, is in young tubers.The main alkaloid is aconitine. During blooming the roots contain a minor amount of aconitine but it grows larger and reaches its maximum in the winter. That is why only young tubers gathered in the autumn are used as a drug. Since tubers easily disintegrate, they should be stored in a dark place.

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”. Its alkaloids are also used in agriculture for killing harmful rodents and insects.