Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs, Kowalchik & Hylson, 1987.: Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs,

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Bukupedia , Jun 17, 1987 - Health & Fitness - 560 pages


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

their enemies.

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

sore throats.


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

on spike.

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

and fences


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User Review  - ArmchairAuthor - LibraryThing

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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User Review  - countrymouse - LibraryThing

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


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About the author (1987)

The editors would like to thank Holly Harmar

Shimizu, curator ofthe National Herb Garden in

Washington, DC, for her assistance in researching

this book.

Copyright 1987 by Rodale Press, Inc.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may

be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any

means, electronic or mechanical, including

photocopy, recording, or any information storage

and retrieval system without the written permission

of the publisher.

Printed in the United States of America.

ISBN 0-87857-699-1 hardcover

468 10 9753 hardcover


This book is intended as a reference

volume only, not as a medical manual or a

guide to self-treatment. We caution you not to

attempt diagnosis or embark upon selftreatment

of serious illness without competent

professional assistance. The information

presented here is not intended to substitute

for any treatment that may have been

prescribed by your physician.

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