Quick Facts about monkshood:
What is monkshood, and is it safe? What part of monkshood is poisonous?
Monkshood (aconitum napellus) is a perennial wildflower that usually grows near mountain meadows in Europe and Asia, but there have been rare reports of it growing naturally in Missouri. It has large blue, purple, white, yellow, or pink flowers. The monkshood flower is cylinder-shaped and looks like a hood that a monk would wear, thus the reason for its name. Another name for monkshood is wolfsbane because people used it as poison bait for wolves. People have used monkshood in herbal medicine to treat various ailments such as nausea and vomiting, viruses, and joint and muscle pain. All parts of the plant contain a toxin called aconitine, with the roots having the greatest concentration. Sometimes the plant leaves are eaten after boiling. However, some of the toxins will remain even after prolonged boiling.
Risks & Side Effects of Monkshood Toxicity:
There is a very low margin of safety with aconitine, meaning there is not much difference between taking an herbal dose for a specific condition and taking a dose that will result in toxic symptoms. When too much of any part of the plant is eaten, there is an immediate feeling of warmth and roughness or dryness of the mouth and throat. The tongue may feel numb, and there can be problems with speaking and swallowing or difficulty taking a breath. If someone ingests a lot of the plant, the numbness spreads over the entire body, with the feeling being particularly strong in the face. There can be severe headaches, restlessness, apprehension, confusion, problems with the heart, and sometimes seizures.
What if Monkshood Comes in Contact with Skin:
While people poisoned by eating monkshood can experience significant pain and serious symptoms, these symptoms are NOT common from just touching the plant. However, if an ointment or tincture is made from the plant and applied to skin that is chapped or has open cuts, toxins can be absorbed and cause symptoms.
What To Do If There Is An Exposure
If you find someone has eaten a small amount of monkshood, do not panic. Wipe out the mouth with a soft, wet cloth and give them some water to drink. If problems start or you have questions, call the Missouri Poison Center right away at 1-800-222-1222. The poison center is open all day, every day for poisoning emergencies and questions.