A killer among us: Aconitum


On Friday the UK press was awash with stories about a gardener who was killed by touching an aconitum plant. From what I read the unfortunate man simply touched (or brushed against or handled) the plant and died 5 days later. I am no coroner and I do not have access to more information than I read newspaper reports. But I find it difficult to believe that ‘touching’ an aconitum plant can really cause death. Aconitum have been used as a colourful and easily grown component of the garden for centuries and, although it is widely known that they are poisonous if ingested, they have been cultivated without incident. Indeed, they are a fairly common ingredient in ‘superior’ cut-flower bunches and gardeners have selected and bred many varieties.


Their common names include wolfsbane (because they can be used – or was used – to kill wolves) or monkshood (because of the hooded flowers). They are related to delphiniums, which are also poisonous. It is known that the plant is poisonous to humans if eaten and it is possible that it may cause some sort of reaction in some people if in contact with the sap but just handling the plant seems an unlikely cause of death. I just hope that no hysteria follows this unfortunate incident because to ban or remove all plants that could cause injury from our gardens would give us problems and it is difficult to think of any plants that do not have some sort of possible side effect.



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5 Comments on “A killer among us: Aconitum”

  1. sueturner31
    November 10, 2014 at 9:18 am #

    I too find it hard to believe …but hey… common sense and good hygiene ..I would never get rid of a plant for being poisonous …even my G/daughters know to ask if they can pick this or that … it’s part of their getting to know the garden … 🙂
    And we too have aconitum and lovely they are too….

    • thebikinggardener
      November 10, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

      Yes, I agree that it is possible to educate children – I came through the experience!

  2. Meriel
    November 10, 2014 at 12:25 pm #

    One of my favourite plants – nothing eats them! & of course everyone loves blue. I find it far fetched, perhaps he was suicidal & ate the seeds hoping his life insurance would pay out attributing it to an accident!

    • thebikinggardener
      November 10, 2014 at 9:43 pm #

      That is a good point – that they are pest-resistant. It seems a very rare case.

  3. thelonggardenpath
    November 11, 2014 at 11:14 pm #

    Well, as they say, “It never did me any harm”! And I’ve had it in the garden for 23 years.

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