Monkshood (Aconitum napellas) Identification

Monkshood / Spring / Summer / Autumn / Toxic

Monkshood is an absolute delight to see through spring and it’s worth learning from a foraging perspective, not to enjoy in dinner but to be completely careful not to pick it for food when out foraging for other plants and species. It’s  is known for being deadly toxic!

Other Common Names

Dogs Bane, Wolfsbane, Venus’ chariot, Old Wives Hood

Botanical Name

Aconitum napellas

Scientific Classification

Kingdom – Plantae

Order – Ranunculales

Family – Ranunculaceae

Genus – A. napellus


All parts of this plant are considered deadly poisonous and you need to take care even with handling it.  The whole plant contains a toxin called aconitine which is a nerve and heart poison and can be fatal. Poisonings commonly happen in Asia due to it being used medicinally. Poisoning can also occur if handling the plant as aconitine is easily absorbed through the skin. It is rare but this can also be deadly. 

Range and Distribution

Commonly grown in gardens, this plant is also found growing in the wild and is native to western and central Europe.


Gardens, damp woodlands, shaded banks and by streams.

Physical Characteristics of Monkshood

A tall, hairless herbaceous perennial plant growing up to 1m tall and producing a beautiful purple flower spike.

monkshood flowers – Acabashi, CC BY-SA 4.0


Leaves grow 5-10cm in diameter and are palmately divided into 5-7 deeply lobed segments with further lobes protruding from these. 

monkshood leaves – Danny S., CC BY-SA 4.0


Blue to dark purple flowers compromising of 2-5 petals with one petal becoming a broad hood shape. The flowers form a spike cluster.

monkshood flower close up – Laval University, CC BY-SA 4.0 –

Other Notes

In ancient times it’s known that arrows were dipped in the sap from Monkshood to be used as a poison for hunting and in battle. Reports show that this poison has been used for thousands of years. At the end of the Roman rule in Europe it was illegal to grow and if caught you would have been sentenced to death. 

Learn more about the toxin contained in Monkshood here

Identification is key!

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