This is not monkshood but the real deal, wolfsbane, which is a different species from monkshood. This Saturn herb is a classic of garden witchcraft and sacred to Hekate. Wolfsbane is sometimes associated with Mars because of the helmet-like shape of its flowers, although Cornelius Agrippa said that the Mars association came from the fact that it poisons by reason of too much heat (which is a Mars characteristic). Wolfsbane apparently can be used to reverse shapeshifting spells and has a folk tradition of protecting homes against werewolves. There was also the belief that witches dipped flints in the juice of wolfsbane (a very dangerous endeavor in itself) and then threw them at an enemy; such flints were called elf-bolts. One scratch was enough to kill, and that is not folklore.
One of the baneful herbs, wolfsbane grows naturally in damp woods in the Alps, where it is a threatened species, and produces sulfur-yellow flowers between June and August. The higher the elevation, the more flowers this plant will get and the longer they will last. It got the name "Wolfsbane" because ancient Germans used it to poison wolves. Bumblebees like this plant because the flower's shape and color says "come on in!" to them. This aconite does not contain aconitine, like monkshood, but does have lycoctonine, which is just as poisonous. Do not get this plant on your skin; it can cause severe itching and dermatitis, and the sap can be absorbed in a cut. Always wear gloves when handling it. Ingesting even a tiny amount of this plant can be fatal, but it's great for keeping werewolves out of your yard and is a classic of the witch's garden. Also known as badgersbane. Cannot be sent to Australia. Top
© 2004, 2016 Harold A. Roth; No reproduction of any part without permission.
How to grow wolfsbane
The seeds of this perennial are a challenge to germinate,
which is why you will never find this plant at garden centers or most
nurseries. Use the baggie method: Wet and wring out a paper towel (I like to use a
weak solution of water and liquid kelp to help germinaton). Sprinkle the seeds on half or a quarter of the
paper towel. Fold up the towel and gently press the layers together.
Put it into a baggie. The cheap, thin baggies work best. You
want a little oxygen to get through. Don't seal it. Just fold it
closed. Don't forget to label with the name of the seed and the date
you started them. Keep the baggie at room temperature and no direct
light for 4 weeks. Make sure the paper towel stays moist but not wet
and watch it doesn't start to mold in there. Then close the bag and put
in the freezer (preferably a deep freeze) for six weeks. Take out and
sow in sterile planting soil (I use Jiffy-7 pellets) and move to temps
in the 40-50F/4-10C outside (not in sun) for
germination. Consider that this plant naturally grows in high
elevations and try to imitate those conditions - cold, snow, snowmelt.
One method I have heard of using for seeds that are triggered
by snowmelt is to soak the seeds for two weeks in cold water that is
changed daily for fresh cold water. This imitates fresh
snowmelt. You can also try sowing outside in fall in a pot on the north
side of your house and letting overwinter outdoors if you get decent
snowcover during winter or you can plant and mulch heavily. Or
sow on Winter Solstice (see
special directions on the Solstice Sowing page). This is a
forest understory plant, so grow in shade in rich soil. It cannot
handle warm climates. It's also a spring ephemeral, which means that it
will flower and then die back, only to reappear the following
spring. The flowers stalks are 3ft/.8m tall; they come up from
a rosette that grows quite large when the plant is happy. Be
very careful when handling the seeds if they are wet; the poisonous
alkaloid can be absorbed through your skin, and the seeds are high in
it because it is a protective to the plant, so if the seeds are wet,
plant with latex gloves on or at least immediately wash with soap and
water afterwards. Don't ever touch the sap of this plant.
Generally, wear gloves when handling it. General
growing info. Top