Aconite

Aconitum Napellus

Growing in the northern hemispheres of Europe and parts of Asia, aconite is one of the most poisonous plant families in our regions. It is however not wholly indigenous, and probably came to North-Europe from the Mediterranean in the early Middle Ages. The English writings about aconite stem from the 10th century.

Aconite grows well in shady places, in soil that holds on to moist, but not too much. The plants flowers, especially the purple ‘monk’s hoods’ are attractive to bees.

Aconitum Napellus, illustration from Köhler's

Aconitum Napellus, illustration from Köhler’s Medizinale Pflanzen, 1887

Names and etymology

Aconite is the Anglicized version of the Latin and Greek name for the same plant. It may refer to its place of origin, which ancient Greek scholar Theophrastus and Roman scholar Pliny the Elder name as the harbor town Aconae.  The Greek word akone, which means ‘cliffy or rocky’ may refer to the rocky places where aconite could be found. The plant is also known as wolfsbane, which is a translation from Greek lukotonon, which means as much as ‘I kill a wolf’. So strong was its poison, that an arrowtip dipped in it could kill a wolf. The word ‘monkshood’ is a medieval term and refers to the purple-capped flowers. An Anglo-Saxon name for aconite is thung. Grieve says this is a general term for poisonous plants.

Sources

Mrs. M. Grieve. A Modern Herbal. http://www.botanical.com

 

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