The Aconitum Genus (Aconite; Monkshood; Wolfsbane)

Aconitum has many interesting names, including blue rocket, monkshood, aconite, wolfsbane, mousebane, leopard’s bane, and the devil’s helmet.

There’s more than 250 different species of these plants, which come from the buttercup plant family.

All are perennials, and come from Europe, Asia, and North America.

Aconitum At A Glance

Aconite, or wolfsbane, is very easy to spot when they are in bloom in summer through to fall.

These perennials bear hood-shaped flowers, usually in clusters, in shades of blue, purple, yellow, pink, or white.

In the wild, the blue-purple flowers are a much richer color, and strangely, cultivated plants don’t have the same depth.


These plants are incredibly toxic, as you might guess from some of the common names, such as queen of poison, women’s bane, and wolf’s bane.

All parts of the plant are very poisonous, so treat it carefully.

Handle it incorrectly, or ingest some, and you could pay for it with your life. 

As you might imagine, this is not a plant you want in your garden if you have pets or children, even if they are only regular visitors.

For most, the novelty of the flower shape is enough to attract them, and this is the last thing you want!

What Does Aconitum Mean?

The name Aconitum comes from Greek word ἀκόνιτον. There are a few possible origins, including akon, which means javelin, referring to its use in poisoning the tips of weapons.

The Greek name lycoctonum for this plant, literally means wolf’s bane, which refers to its use of poisoning wolves, either through bait or poison-tipped weapons, to protect livestock.

Monkshood, the common name, refers to the shape of the flowers.

Meaning And Symbolism Of The Aconite Flower

Aconite isn’t a plant you want to give someone, really! It symbolizes a warning, hatred for mankind, or death.

In Greek myth, it’s said that the three-headed dog, Cerberus, who guarded the underworld had wolfsbane dripping from his teeth. Just in case the three-headed aspect didn’t deter trespassers.

In India, wolfsbane is considered sacred to Shiva, who is the God of All Poisons.

Wolfsbane Uses

Wolfsbane has two main uses: as a medicine, and as a poison.

It’s interesting how often those two have some crossover, for instance, Digitalis is very poisonous, but live-saving medicines have been derived from the plant.

Aconite has had a role in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda for hundreds of years. 

Unfortunately, those species which are used for these purposes,  including Aconitum chasmanthum and Aconitum heterophyllum, are very endangered in the wild, due to too many people harvesting them for medicinal purposes.

As a poison, Wolfsbane has had a long use throughout history, both to kill animals and people.

For hundreds of years, the plant was used to poison projectiles such as arrows and spears, to help give the attacker an edge, usually against wolves.

It also has a blood-soaked history in terms of killing people. The Ancient Romans would use it to execute criminals, not just to give them an advantage in battle.

One of the most famous legends is that Cleopatra killed herself by using Aconite, rather than live under Octavian’s rule. Others suggest she used a poisonous snake.

Some theorists believe that the deaths of Socrates, Alexander the Great, and Ptolemy XIV Philopator were caused by aconite poisoning.

Aconitum Growing Requirements

These perennials are hardy in USDA zones 3 through to 8, and bloom in summer and fall, for as long as the weather allows.

Depending on the species you choose, they can range between 30cm tall and 6 feet tall, and they thrive both in the ground and in containers.

It does particularly well under large trees and shrubs, as long as the soil is good quality, bringing color into any bare patches you may have.

Wolfsbane needs a position of partial sunlight in order to be at its best, but it will also survive in full sunlight.

Aconitum is not demanding when it comes to watering, but it does need some occasional attention from you to be at its best.

Aconite loves freely draining, moist soil which is packed full of nutrients. For best results, the pH should be between 5.0 and 6.0, and this will ensure the plant thrives.

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