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Monkshood - Aconitum napellus

Foraging and identification of Monkshood  (Aconitum napellus)

Poisonous plant - novice Season - summer and autumn Common names Monkshood, friar's hood, auld wife's huid, aconite, wolfsbane, Venus' chariot, Adam and Eve, leopard's bane, devil's helmet, blue rocket

Scientific name meaning: The genus name is from the Greek akoniton, meaning dart or javelin, and probably a reference to how this plant's poison was used to kill wolves using an arrow. The specific epithet is derived from the Latin napus, a type of turnip, and a reference to the tuberous root of this plant


Habitat of Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)

Monkshood is native to the UK. It likes shady, damp areas - woodland and stream sides, but can also be found in meadows, on road sides and on waste ground.

Cultivated garden escapee variants are not an uncommon find.

Overall structure

Monkshood (Aconitum napellus) overall structure

A tall plant reaching up to 1.5m. It is often found in small groups.


The leaves of Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)

The dark green leaves are deeply palmately lobed, almost giving the impression of being compound.


The stem of Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)

The single stem is green often with dense purple spotting. The flower stalks are densely hairy.


The flower of Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)

The hooded flowers appear on a raceme from early summer and are a deep blue-violet. The upper hood and four lower "petals" are actually coloured sepals. The flower is 3-4cm in diameter and equal in height. Garden variants are taller than they are wide. The flower stalks are densely hairy.


The fruit of Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)

The seed pods that follow flowers look similar to pea pods. There are between 3 and 5 per flower stalk. They start off pale green maturing to brown. The seeds inside are black at maturity.

Possible lookalikes


May be confused with garden escapee varieties or Delphinium spp (pictured) but all of these are also poisonous.

Poisonous parts All parts of this plant are seriously poisonous. The three main toxins it contains are the alkaloids aconitine, atisine and veatchine. Aconitine can pass through the skin. The toxins cause heart arrhythmia, paralysis and numbness. Poisoning can be fatal there have been accidental and intentional lethal poisonings in the past decade in the UK Hazards All parts of this plant are extremely poisonous and its toxins can pass through skin

Use in herbal medicine and medicine Despite its extreme toxicity, this plant is used and has been used with extremely careful preparation as a pain killer, arthritis treatment, diuretic, sedative and diaphoretic If you are suffering from any ailment or need medical advice, please see your General Practitioner Other uses Garden ornamental Importance to other species Provides a valuable nectar source for pollinators and a food source for the caterpillars of several species of moth

Always stay safe when foraging. You need to be 100% sure of your identification, 100% sure that your foraged item is edible, and 100% sure that you are not allergic to it (it is good practice to always try a small amount of any new food you are consuming). If in doubt, leave it out!


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