Wolfsbane

Scientific Name
Aconitum vulparia or Aconitum lycoctonum

Other names
Alpine aconite, various spellings of “wolfbane”, Wolf’s bane

Description

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Wolfsbane is perennial Alpine woodland wildflower and a member of the deadly aconite family. It grows to about 3 feet tall, spreads out in clumps and produces lovely spikes of ivory, green or bright yellow pitcher-shaped flowers from spring to midsummer. The bright green leaves are palmately shaped and deeply lobed and toothed.

A member of the aconite family, wolfsbane is highly toxic.

History and Folklore

Wolfsbane gets its name from the fact that it was once used to kills wolves. I have seen it reported that it was used to poison arrows when hunting wolves by the ancient Greeks and that it was used to poison meat left out by farmers.

In Greek myth, Medea attempted to poison Theseus by putting wolfsbane in his wine.

Growing Wolfsbane

Wolfsbane germinates in response to snowmelt, so it can be somewhat difficult for the backyard gardener to get it going. You could try planting it in the fall so that the seeds experience the winter freeze and thaw if you live in an area that experiences a good hard freeze in the winter with plenty of snow. Alternatively, you could try soaking and freezing the seeds in a wet paper towel for a few weeks before soaking them for several days in cold water and then planting. You should be aware that its toxic compounds are also contained in its seeds, so use gloves when handling the seeds and disposing of water it has been soaked in.

It is much easier to propagate by division, which is possible after a few years of growth due to its clumping habit.

Wolfsbane likes a moist, shady or partly shaded spot with rich soil full of organic material in a spot that will not be bothered by children or pets. It will grow best in USDA zones 5-8. Wolfsbane does not tend to suffer damage from wildlife, but aphids like it.

Bees enjoy wolfbane.

Healing with Wolfbane

Wolfsbane has been used historically as a treatment for lycanthropy (werewolf-ism) and as an antidote to other poisons. It is extremely toxic and should not be used for healing by the lay herbalist.

Wolfsbane in Magick

Wolfsbane has traditionally been used to protect homes from werewolves and can be used to prevent shapeshifting.

Bundles of wolfsbane could be placed around barns and pastures to protect livestock from predators (taking care that the livestock have no access to it, lest they be killed themselves).

Because of its baneful nature, it could be used in sympathetic magic to bring harm to another by creating “elf bolts” of sharpened flint dipped in wolfsbane juice and piercing a poppet for the victim with them.

Magickal Correspondences for Wolfsbane

Planet(s): SaturnMars
Element(s): Fire or Aether (also called Spirit or Akasha)
Zodiac Sign(s):
Deities: Hecate

Wolfsbane Toxicity

Wolfsbane is a baneful herb and ingesting even a small amount can kill you. It can be absorbed through the skin as well, causing numbness, tingling, and dermatitis, so use gloves when handling wolfsbane. It should be clearly labeled and planted in a part of the garden inaccessible to children, pets, and livestock. Once harvested, store it in a tightly sealed jar on a high shelf, once again, clearly labeled.

Some symptoms of wolfsbane poisoning include vomiting, sweating, frothing at the mouth, confusion, dizziness, numbness, and tingling about the face, mouth, and limbs, a burning sensation in the abdomen. Symptoms appear within an hour of exposure and death follows within 6 hours. In the case of accidental ingestion, activated charcoal given within one hour may slow the poison, but the patient must receive supportive care in the hospital as soon as possible. In the case of exposure through the skin and membranes, flush with water and seek supportive medical care as soon as possible.

2 thoughts on “Wolfsbane

  • November 2, 2020 at 9:21 pm
    Permalink

    Would handling the wolfs bane seed cause skin numbness, tingling, etc? Or is this just from handling the plants?

    Reply
    • November 13, 2020 at 6:05 pm
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      All parts of Wolfsbane are toxic. I am unable to find any information about the seed specifically, but I would wear gloves when handling them. Seed coats often contain their own toxins to protect the embryo from predators. Think of hot peppers.

      Reply

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