- Name also: Common Monk’s Hood, Aconite, Wolfsbane, Wolf’s Bane, Wolf’s-bane, Fuzi, Monk’s Blood, Venus’ Chariot, Blue Rocket, Friar’s Cap, Auld Wife’s Huid
- Family: Buttercup Family – Ranunculaceae
- Growing form: Perennial herb. Taproot tuberous.
- Height: 0.8–1.5 m (32–60 in.). Upper part of stalk hairy.
- Flower: Perianth zygomorphic, dark violet, approx. 2 cm (0.8 in.) high. Sepals 5, petaloid, uppermost helmet-shaped, usually a little broader than tall, densely hairy and greyish. 2 nectariferous tepals inside helmet. Stamens many. Gynoecium with separate leaves, pistils usually 3. Inflorescence unbranched or lightly branched at base, densely short-haired or sometimes glabrous raceme.
- Leaves: Alternate, basal leaves long-stalked, stem leaves short-stalked–stalkless. Blade often hairy on top, 3-lobed until base, lobes narrow, tapered and deeply lobed.
- Fruit: Arching, glabrous, terminated by a short bristle, approx. 17 mm (0.68 in.) long follicle, of which usually 3 united. In each follicle 10–15 seeds with winged edges.
- Habitat: Yards, parks, banks, wasteland, broad-leaved forests and stream banks. Ornamental, quite rare in the wild, but it can survive a long time.
- Flowering time: June–September.
Monkshoods protect themselves against predators with a cocktail of poison that contains aconite, as is evident from the plant’s scientific name, and other closely related alkaloids. The plant guards its rootstock very carefully, but in fact all the aerial parts are poisonous too. Monkshood’s poison has been known for a long time and tinctures were already being used in ancient times as e.g. poison for arrow tips. In the dawn of Western civilization Romans, Greeks and Arabs had the ability to use monkshood in warfare, disposing of wild beasts, not to mention bumping off troublesome spouses, political enemies and other foes.
A few grams of monkshood’s root doesn’t look like much, but it’s enough to cause dreadful symptoms which result in an extremely painful death within a couple of hours. On the other hand, the correct dosage of monkshood’s root and pure aconite can be used as a painkiller for aches, to prevent infections and to widen the veins to treat e.g. coronary disease. Although monkshood is said to be less poisonous in cold countries than warm ones, it wouldn’t be a good idea to start experimenting.
Aconitum x stoerkianum
Handsome monkshoods are usually cultivated in gardens as ornamentals. Popular species in Finland apart from monkshood itself are varigated monkshood, whose flower colour changes according to the variety from blue and white flecks to purple. Northern wolfsbane (named also northern monkshood, A. lycoctonum) can also be found growing in the wild in Finland. Above its flower a helmet-shaped tepal is clearly higher than it is on its relatives, and its leaves are less lobed. It too is sometimes cultivated in gardens, although not everyone is convinced of its beauty. When not flowering, monkshoods can be mixed also with candle larkspur (Delphinum elatum).