Queen of the Fall
She is no monk, hiding her face from the sun;
her hood brazenly pushed back
daring you to come in closer.
Though she is the bane of every living mammal
she stands defiant in the face of death.
Frost covers her cloak yet she breathes in the waning light.
She presides over the Autumn court and watches as countless die, succumbing to the cold.
But she alone lives, lives until every globe of new life is fully formed beneath her cape.
And only then will she expose her head to the elements and fade away.
Monkshood: A Pretty Poison
Monkshood, Aconitum napellus, is a member of the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae). It also known as wolf’s bane, leopard’s bane, mousebane, women’s bane, and queen of poisons. And curiously, as devil’s helmet which one would think would be an opposite to a monk’s hood.
Monkshood is a perennial herb native to western and central Europe, it has been naturalized to North America and is grown as a garden ornamental. Its eye-catching spires of deep purple flowers are arresting in late fall as one of the only flowers left standing as frost hits.
All parts of this plant are poisonous, hence why is has so many other common names ending in “bane”, meaning a deadly poison. So though extracts monkshood are used homeopathically in low doses to treat inflammation, one should use extreme caution, for even in small doses, the compounds in this plant, particularly aconitine, are heart and nerve toxins. It is no wonder extracts of monkshood have been used for hunting large predators, such as wolves, and for warfare. A dart tipped with monkshood or a tincture in ones’ drink could bring your enemies down with agonizing accuracy.
Welcoming this pretty poison into your garden space is not for the faint of heart. Touching any part of the plant may not cause adverse reaction but it is best to handle this posy with gloves because direct contact can cause abnormal sensations of prickling or itching. If someone were to accidentally ingest any part of the plant, treatment is mainly supportive – monitoring of blood pressure and cardiac rhythm. The patient is somewhat on their own. Ingesting activated charcoal may be useful, and there are a few drugs available at the hospital that could alleviate some symptoms. Best to be sure that you do NOT accidentally consume this queen of poisons.
Arianna Alexsandra Collins, naturalist, poet, writer, wild edible enthusiast, and Wiccan High Priestess lives in Ashfield, MA.
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