Motivated by Halloween I was looking around work yesterday for something spooky to share with the masses. Other than a few pumpkins and some stunning, albeit wilting, black kangaroo paw (worth checking out if you ever have the opportunity) I was coming up with nothing. It wasn't until I looked in the far corner, surrounded by pink roses and Lisianthus did I spot the most unassuming of terrifying flowers. Monkshood or Aconitum is a tall graceful plant with soft, cloud-like clusters of flowers at the top of each stem, found mostly in shades of purple and blue, they are a welcome contrast to the fall palette. The only problem with Monkshood is that they happen to be fatally toxic.
A subject of folklore for centuries, Monkshood may be more recognized by its other name: Wolfsbane. The stories tell of Wolfsbane being used in everything from witches' poisons to vampire repellent to werewolf tranquillizer, this last one in fact being not far from the truth. Aconite, the poison derived from primarily the roots of the Aconitum plant works as a deadly sedative if ingested in too large a quantity. When taken internally (or supposedly in extreme cases externally) the poison slows the heart rate down to a point of death, but at the same time paralyses the respiratory system, meaning that as your heart is slowing to a pace that cannot support the body, your lungs are also unable to take in any air, which in fact causes death by suffocation before the heart rate stops.
In small doses, the herb can be medicinal, utilized even in traditional Chinese practices, but be forewarned: it has been documented that even so much as touching this plant to your lips or tongue can cause extreme distress to the body. These flowers are a staple in the floral industry and are one that I handle regularly this time of year and thus far I have no weariness (or mythological encounters) to report. However I cannot help glancing to my side as I type for there is a bouquet I brought home for myself of Monkshood, Rose hips, and Anemones and with each sentence another petal of the evil Wolfsbane heavily drops from the stem, scattering death all over my kitchen table. Perhaps staying home this Halloween isn't the safest option after all.

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