Aconitum napellus - devil’s helmet

The Aconitum plant species belongs to the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. Devil’s helmet is also referred to as aconite, monkshood, friar's cap, wolfsbane, women’s bane or blue rocket. Devil’s helmet was originally found in Siberia, but spread during the Ice Ages across Europe, Asia and America.

© DHU

It grows in moist, nutrient-rich, shady, mountainous regions, favouring forests, brooksides and meadows. In the Alps, the protected plant can be found up to a height of 2,500 metres. In summer, devil’s helmet produces dense bunches of purple-blue flowers. It grows to a height of 50 to 150 centimetres and flowers from June to September. But beware! Devil’s helmet is the most poisonous plant in Europe. It contains – mainly in the roots and seeds – the potent alkaloid, aconitine. Just three to six milligrams of the alkaloid can be fatal in adults. The toxin content of the roots is highest in winter.

Greek legend has it that devil’s helmet was secreted in the saliva of the three-headed Cerberus (the hellhound of Greek mythology) when it was captured by Hercules from the Underworld. Human and animal saliva were at that time believed to contain poison: the nastier the creature, the more poisonous the saliva. In ancient Greece, the people were banned from planting devil’s helmet. In ancient and medieval times, cases of murder by poisoning with aconitine occurred very often. The attempted poisoning of the prophet Muhammad in the 7th century failed when he immediately recognised the bitter taste, though legend has it that he succumbed to the effects of the poison three years later.

All these lores reveal why, of course, devil’s helmet may not be used undiluted as a herbal remedy. When potentised for homeopathic purposes, however, use is not only wise, but extremely beneficial! Until Samuel Hahnemann began testing the homeopathic dilution of the agent in 1805, it had only been used topically as a medicine.

Homeopaths use Aconitum in generally very healthy people whose symptoms develop rapidly and are accompanied by increasing weakness. Characteristic of the condition is a deterioration in the symptoms in the evening, especially after midnight, in a warm room, from music and tobacco smoke, when lying on the side affected by the symptoms, and from dry, cold winds. Typically, fresh air brings an improvement.