In the Garden
Common Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)
*Also known as blue rocket, friar’s cap, and wolfsbane
Wolfsbane (A. lycoctonum)
*Also known as monkshood and northern wolfsbane
The aconites are best known for their distinctive, elongated flowers. These plants form clumps that can be two feet tall and wide from which graceful spires arise with dense clusters of flowers. The leaves of wolfsbane are light green with deeply cut lobes. The flower spires can be two to six feet tall. Wolfsbane flowers are yellow or whitish yellow, and sometimes purple. Common monkshood has dark green leaves with deeply cut lobes. Its spires can reach three to four feet tall with dark blue-violet flowers.
These cousins cause a lot of confusion because they look so similar and their names have been used interchangeably. In ancient times, both of these plants were called wolfsbane. According to legend they were used to poison bait and arrows for hunting wolves and other wild animals that threatened villages. In the Middle Ages the plants became known as monkshood because the flower shape was thought to look like the cowls worn by monks.
All parts of wolfsbane are highly poisonous. Although common monkshood is used in Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine, without proper preparation of plant material it is toxic and not used in Western herbal remedies. That said, monkshood has been grown as an ornamental garden plant for centuries.
According to mythology, the aconites sprang from the foaming mouths of Cerberus, the triple-headed dog of Greek and Roman mythology that guarded the entrance to the underworld. In other legends, Hecate used these plants to create poison arrows called elf bolts. Aristotle is said to have used one of the aconites to commit suicide.
Grow either of these plants on your property for protection, especially against shape-shifters. Growing them also honors Hecate. Be sure to plant aconites only where children do not have access to them. In addition, these plants should be handled only while wearing gloves. Because of their association with death, place an offering under one of these plants when a loved one passes to the otherworld and ask that the plant’s devas provide guidance for them. Also associated with enchantment, place an offering under the plant on a full moon to foster magical energy.
The aconites are associated with the element water and the goddess Hecate. Their astrological influence comes from Saturn.
Figure 26. The Aconites are associated with the rune Perth.