National Records of Scotland

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Monkshood (Aconitum)

Monkshood (Aconitum)

Aconitum (Bressingham Spire) and Aconitum (Blue Sceptre), family Ranunculaceae
July to October

Native to southern England and Europe, Monkshood has been cultivated in gardens since before 1600.

Highly poisonous, it is surrounded by mythology and associated with murder and famous poisonings. Pliny the Elder (AD 23-79) named it 'woman's murder'. He also noted that it was said to have sprouted from the spittle of the hell hound Cerberus which Hercules brought out from the underworld.

During the Middle Ages it was associated with witchcraft, and later in the 1600's it was used medicinally despite its highly toxic nature.

The common name, Monkshood, reflects the flower shape, which looks like a monk's cowl.

Monkshood. Image credit: USFWS Midwest Region, Flickr. Public domain
Monkshood. Image credit: Yellowstone National Park, Flickr. Public domain