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.
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.
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
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
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.