The Poisonous Path: Wolfsbane

The Poisonous Path: Wolfsbane

Pake Nielson

Even though herbs are thought of as more of a traditional medicine by western standards, plants have always been the healers of this world. Every living species and every diseased creature can benefit from the use of herbs. This relationship transcends basic symbiotic relationships and embodies nature as an intelligent consciousness. It is up to us, the mammal with the gift of advanced imagination, to make the connections between substance and action. It's up to us to follow the healer's path into the wealth of preexisting plans laid out for us by the plants we are surrounded by. 

Where this path might lead you, no one can say. Different plants call out to different healers, whether that be based on their nationality, heritage, ethnicity, education, or current need. No one can know all that the plant kingdom has to offer us, and at times it can seem easy to get misled or lost in it all. But for those who are willing to listen, and for those who are willing to grow, finding yourself as an herbalist is a matter of letting these plants show you the way. 

One might first become alarmed by the use of poisonous plants within medicine, but the fact is that plants of poisonous property can heal and relieve conditions where other herbs fall short. This is what gives them their value. Not to mention the ceremonial and spiritual uses acclaimed to these powerful herbs. In this blog, we will be discovering the lively and dangerous personalities of each plant along the poisonous path. 

Aconitum napellus

To start the year off strong, I wanted to begin with one of the most deadly plants still used today. Wolfsbane, or Aconitum napellus, is a tuberous-rooted perennial belonging to the Ranunculaceae family; or buttercup family. This plant grows throughout most of Europe and Asia, usually taking root in moist pastures and mountainous areas. Wolfsbane blooms and flowers in a deep purplish-blue, supported by rich green stalks standing 2-4 feet tall.

The alkaloid known as aconite found most potently in the roots of Wolfsbane is, by all means, an extremely powerful toxin. This fast-acting poison will cause severe conditions to almost anyone taking aconite internally. It cannot be stressed enough that aconite is not safe for consumption. This is not to say that aconite has no medicinal properties. In fact, when regulated by an experienced practitioner, Wolfsbane can aid those with a large range of diseases. If it wasn't for the deadly personality of this plant, it would otherwise be considered a tonic at large. Traditionally, Wolfsbane was taken by mouth for paralysis, pain, numbness, poor circulation, inflammation, asthma, pleurisy, pericarditis sicca, fevers, skin-related diseases, and loss of hair. 

Great precaution is taken when preparing Wolfsbane infusion. Most preparations will use a diluted ethanol solution for such an infusion. The actual amount of Wolfsbane extraction added to the infusion is usually stated at 0.001 ml per liter of diluted ethanol solution. It is recommended that you leave such production to the experts! Even a slight unexpected variant can cause Wolfsbane's temperance to flip on you.

Wolfsbane found its acclaim in traditional herbal medicine due to its healing actions, which were considered to be of analgesic, diuretic, anti-rheumatic, sedative, fever-reducing, and anti-inflammatory properties. Yet, due to its potency, Wolfsbane is not found in common practice today. That's not to say you can’t easily buy this plant through a common supply, such as Amazon. Despite its deadly affliction, there are no current regulations restricting the buying and selling of Aconitum napellus

Cultural Uses

Aconitum napellus was among the first poisons to be used throughout the northern hemisphere and perhaps one of the very first poisons to be discovered by Ancient Greece. Wolfsbane's lethal reputation quickly made its way onto the battlefield, coating every arrow, spear, sword, and javelin. In turn, Wolfsbane was given the name Aconitum, which derives from the Greek work akon meaning dart or javelin. The Greeks would use this poison on every man, beast, or politician that stood in their way. 

Wolfsbane was so infamous in Ancient Greece that it became a part of their mythology. Wolfsbane grew from the fallen drool of the mythical creature known as Cerberus - a hellhound with three heads and Hades’ appointed guardian to the gates of the underworld. This depiction of Wolfsbane can be found within the legend of Heracles as told by Ovid. Truly a fitting affiliation for such a deadly plant. 


Aconitum napellus is one of the strongest and most deadly members of the poisonous path. Its medicinal qualities seem to reflect that of respiratory and cardiac tonic herbs. However, when prepared by the wrong hands, you are much more likely to fall victim to this plant's venomous nature. Wolfsbane should never be administered by anyone other than an expert naturopath or herbal practitioner, and self-regulated use is highly discouraged. 

Thank you for joining us here, at the beginning of the new year on the poisonous path. I hope this blog will spark your curiosity to further research the medicinal and cultural uses of otherwise considerably poisonous plants. After all, you never know what infamous plants might be growing in your backyard.


Aconitine is the most dangerous of these toxins. It is most noted as a heart poison but is also a potent nerve poison. Raw aconite plants are very poisonous.They are used as herbs only after processing by boiling or steaming to reduce their toxicity. ave,heart%20rate%3B%20and%20for%20sedation

Extracts of Aconitum species have been given orally in traditional medicine to reduce fever associated with colds, pneumonia, laryngitis, croup, and asthma; for pain, inflammation, and high blood pressure; as a diuretic; to cause sweating; to slow heart rate; and for sedation 

All 22 informants knew of Aconitum spp. and their therapeutic use, and 5 of them provided a detailed description of the preparation and use of “voukuc”, an ethanolic extract made from aconite roots. Seven informants were unable to describe the preparation in detail, since they knew of the extract only from the narration of others or they remembered it from childhood. 

Despite serious concerns about safety, some people take aconite by mouth for facial paralysis, joint pain, gout, finger numbness, cold hands and feet, inflammation, painful breathing and fluid in the space surrounding the lungs (pleurisy), certain heart problems (pericarditis sicca), fever, skin diseases, and hair loss. Aconite is also used as a disinfectant, to treat wounds, and to promote sweating 

Aconite root is UNSAFE when taken by mouth. All species of the plant are dangerous, and so are processed products. Aconite contains a strong, fast-acting poison that causes severe side effects such as nausea, vomiting, weakness or inability to move, sweating, breathing problems, heart problems, and death. 

An alkaloid derived from the plant by the same name, which formerly had currency as a medicinal herb; given aconite’s toxicity, it is no longer used in herbal medicine. 


Abdominal pain, anxiety, blurred vision, bradycardia, burning sensation, cardiac arrhythmias, chest pain, diaphoresis, dyspnoea, impaired speech, muscular weakness, nausea, paresthesias, vertigo, vomiting, and possibly death due to respiratory failure or ventricular fibrillation. 


Gastric lavage, atropine, digitalis. 


A homeopathic remedy for treating swelling, fever, infections, restlessness, anxiety and panic attacks, and parasthesias; it has also been used for anginal pain, arrhythmias, arthritis, asthma, bronchitis, respiratory infections, laryngitis, sore throat, toothaches. In homeopathy, aconite’s concentration is extremely low, thus reducing its potential toxicity. 

Aconite is an erect plant that grows to about 3 feet in height. The most poisonous part is the roots that is fleshy and spindle shaped. The Aconite leaves are deep green in color, with alternating spiral arrangement. Aconite flowers bloom in erect clusters of dark purple blue in color. The aconite flower has a peculiar shape where one of its 5 sepals resembles a cylindrical hood or a helmet thus its other English names were derived. Aconite fruit is a follicle that bears a lot of seeds. 

---Synonyms---Monkshood. Blue Rocket. Friar's Cap. Auld Wife's Huid. 

---Part Used---The whole plant.

---Habitat---Lower mountain slopes of North portion of Eastern Hemisphere. From Himalayas through Europe to Great Britain. 

It’s believed to be one of the first poisons ever used in ancient Greece and Rome. The ancient Chinese used aconite to poison arrows and in regions of Europe and North America, it was used to kill wolves and other carnivores.
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