Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Kowalchik & Hylson, 1987.: Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs,
Greek legend tells that aconite grew on the hill of Aconitus
where Hercules fought with Cerberus, the three-headed dog that
guards the entrance to Hades, and from this raging dog's mouths fell
foam and sali\-a onto aconite, giving this plant its deadly poison.
Hecate, a Greek goddess of magic arts and spells, poisoned her
father with aconite, and Medea is said to have killed Theseus with it.
Aconite has been called love poison. According to legend, women
who were fed aconite daily from infanc\- could poison others
through sexual contact.
Outside of legend, men did find use for this plant as a poison. In
ancient times, on the island of Ceos in the Aegean sea, poisons made
from aconite were given to the old men when they became ill and
were no longer useful to the state. Hunters painted arrow tips with
aconite and mixed it into bait for use in hunting wolves; hence the
plant's common names, wolf's bane or wolfbane. In Europe and
^^sia, soldiers dropped it into the water supplies along the route of
During the Middle Ages, witches had an interesting use for this
herb. They mixed it with belladonna in ointments that they rubbed
on their bodies for flying. These xwo herbs are indeed good "flying"
herbs. In combination, the irregular heart action produced by aconite
and the delirium produced by belladonna surely produced a sensation
of flying. Of course, the witches needed to be ven- careful with
such a powerful ointment, or they would have been flying forever.
As e\1denced by these stories, aconite certainly produces a physiological
elfect on the body. However, aconite was not only used as a
poison. ,\s a medicinal herb, aconite was introduced to modern
medicine in 1^63 in N'ienna. In 1^88, it was added to the Londoti
Pharmacopoeia and also the first U.S. Pharmacopoeia.
So what good is this plant if it is so poisonous? Viell, homeopaths
and Chinese herbalists still use it medicinally, prescribing
infinitesimal dosages. This is perilous work at best. At your home,
keep this plant in the garden.
Medicinal: Aconite slows the heart, decreases blood pressure,
induces sweating, and reduces inflammation. Applied locally, it is
absorbed into the skin and produces a warm, tingling sensation
followed by numbness. Liniments containing aconite have been
used to relieve rheumatic and neuralgic pains.
Homeopaths use aconite in their remedies, and the Chinese
make a drug from the roots of several species of this herb, but
because the therapeutic dose is so close to the toxic dose, aconite
was long ago deleted from the U.S. Pharmacopoeia and the British
Toxicity: Due to the extreme toxicity of this herb, it should never
be used for any r>pe of treatment. The entire plant, but especially the
root, contains several toxic alkaloids. Aconitine is the most abundant
alkaloid; others include picratonitine, aconine, benzoylamine, and
neopelline. These alkaloids first stimulate and then depress the central
and peripheral nerves. A dose of as little as 5 milliliters of a
tincture of aconite may cause death. Cases of poisoning have been
reported when the leaves have been mistaken for wild parsley or the
roots for horseradish. Even used externally, it may be absorbed in
sufficient quantities to cause poisoning.
Ornamental: What gardener could resist planting this inU"iguing
herb? Its curiously shaped flowers, which earned it the nickname
monkshood during the Middle Ages, are quite pretty both in the
garden and in cut flower arrangements.
Aconite is an excellent addition to perennial flower beds. Because
of its height, it can be attractively set in a large group of flowers
behind lower growing plants. It blooms late in the summer and fall
and can be grown in a lightly shaded area or in direct sun. If you add
this plant to your garden, keep children away from it!
Aconite can be grown from seed sown in April Vi inch deep. It
will flower in two or three years. The easiest and most practical form
of propagation is root division. In the autumn of every third or fourth
year, dig up the plant and separate and replant the "daughter roots"
that have developed at the side of the old roots. The plants should be
placed about 18 inches apart.
The tops of aconite should be cut after the plants have been
killed by frost. In areas where winters are harsh, cover the beds with
branches of evergreens or some other loose, insulating material.
Aconite does not like its roots disturbed and should not be
Pests and diseases: Aconite is susceptible to crown rot, powdery
mildew, mosaic, venicillium wilt, and cyclamen mite. (See the entry
Growing Herbs for information on controlling pests and diseases.)
Agrimonia Eupatoria Rosaceae
"Ten minutes til showtime!"
The singer uncorks her green bottle and pours half a glass of
agrimony water, gargles, then spits in the sink. She pats her mouth
dv\ with the hand towel, paints her lips crimson, then combs her hair
one last time. She is ready to sing.
Singers and speakers have been known to gargle with agrimony
to clear and refresh their throats before performances. You, too, can
use such a gargle to relieve a sore throat from a cold or the flu.
Agrimony's throat-soothing activity is only one of its properties.
This herb has been used for many other purposes, and historically,
some of those uses are . . . well, a little unusual.
The strangest use of agrimony was in an old remedy for internal
hemorrhages. Herbalists mixed it with pounded frogs and a little
human blood. This sounds more like a witch's potion than a medicinal
In ancient Greece, this herb was prescribed for eye complaints.
The Anglo-Saxons called agrimony garclive and used it primarily to
treat wounds. In Chaucer's time herbalists still prescribed it for
wounds. They also mixed it with mugwort and vinegar to treat patients
with back pain.
An old English medical manuscript reported:
If [agrimony] be leyd under mann's heed,
He shal sleepyn as he were deed;
He shal never drede ne wakyn
Till fro under his heed it be takyn.
Currently, no sedative properties have been found in agrimony, but
should you want to place a sprig of this herb on your pillow rather
than swallow some sleeping pills, well, it's worth a xiy—at least it is
probably safer. Unless, of course, it convinces your spouse that more
is wrong with you than insomnia.
At the end of the sixteenth centur>', herbalists prescribed agrimony
remedies for rheumatism, gout, and fevers. In the United
States and Canada, up through the late 1800s, agrimony was used to
treat digestive problems, bowel complaints, asthma, coughs, and
The French drink agrimony tea merely for pleasure, but it also
m-3.\ offer some health benefits.
Agrimony is a hain', deep
green perennial herb with a c\'-
lindrical, slightly rough stem
bearing a few branches. The
whole plant is slightly aromatic,
while the flowers themselves
have a spicy odor. (See photo
on page 169 )
Flowers: Yellow, Vb in.
across; 5 egg-shaped petals
slightly notched at end; 5-12
stamens, grow close and profusely
Leaves: Alternate, odd pinnate,
toothed, and downy;
lower leaves 7-8 in. long and
have more leaflets; upper
leaves 3 in. long with fewer
leaflets; leaflets var}' in size with
small ones alternating between
much larger ones; largest leaflets
measure l-l'/2 in. long.
Fruit: A bristly burr.
Height: To 5 ft.
July and August.
Originally native to Europe,
now common in the
United States and in parts of
Asia. In the western part of the
United States, it is found in the
middle mountains of southern
California and in the north central
sections of Arizona.
Woods, sides of fields,
waste places, along roadsides
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Informative and entertaining, this encyclopedia has already helped me improve my black thumb to more of a yellowish hue. Practical information such as ideal planting times and soil conditions fill ... Read full review
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Excellent resource, covers so many different herbs from so many angles. This will probably be my main reference because its the best I've read so far and covers everything I could possibly need to know. Read full review