Aconite (Aconitum napellus): As poisonous as it is showy

During this summer, on some walks in the mountains, we have come across this beautiful flower, Aconite. There is a temptation to cut a few for a vase at home for their striking flower heads. However, behind its beauty it hides one of the most toxic substances known in vegetables. We usually talk about plant care. On this occasion, however, we are going to talk about the care that must be taken, which is not the same. We present you the Common Aconite or Aconitum napellus .


It belongs to the Ranunculáceas family. Like almost any plant, the normal thing is to find a genus that includes many species that share morphological characteristics that the “taxonomists” end up grouping. Aconite was not going to be any different and hundreds of species of this plant are known. However, the one we have found this summer walking through the mountains has been the common Aconite or known by the scientific name of Aconitum napellus .

It is a very recognizable monkshood since its inflorescences are very very striking for several reasons. They are elongated inflorescences with heights of up to one meter (although the average is less, between 50 and 75 cm). Its intense purple color stands out from the rest of the mountain plants, which are usually heather, juniper, mountain blueberry … and an endless number of creeping high-altitude shrubs where trees are becoming scarce.

Aconite leaves are also very characteristic



As we have just mentioned, they are found in mountain climates up to 2000 meters of altitude throughout Europe. In Spain, the typical areas are the Cantabrian mountain range, the Pyrenees, the Sierra de Granada (Betic System), in the Sierra de Madrid (Central System) … In the Mediterranean mountain areas it does not grow. It is always easy to find it in very humid areas and especially near water courses of great purity (springs, streams and mountain springs). In fact, it shares this same characteristic with the appreciated watercress .

There is a very famous saying about it, widely used in the mountain areas of Palencia and the Pyrenees (that we know) that is:

You who catch the watercress, beware of the napelo …

… Diverting us from the proximity of these two plants when growing in cold-temperate mountain areas with upwellings and very pure water courses.


One of the reasons why this plant is so well known is precisely this. Its EXTREME toxicity . As with oleanders in the Mediterranean, in the mountain areas of almost all of Europe we find this deadly beauty. And what parts of the plant are toxic. ALL. In its internal composition, the plant has significant amounts of a terpene alkaloid called aconitine , so obviously named after being isolated and discovered in plants of this genus (I don’t dare say if it was exactly discovered in Aconitum napellus ).

[alert style = »red»] All parts of the plant (flowers, stem and especially the root) are toxic [/ alert]Aconitine affects the nervous system by opening the sodium ion channels of nerve cells. It produces a very severe symptomatic picture in which several symptoms are linked as the victim’s condition worsens. Sensation of anesthesia, sweating, feeling cold, nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea. Itching of the tongue, lips, blurred vision, slow and weak pulse, drop in blood pressure, abnormal breathing, seizures and finally respiratory arrest or ventricular fibrillation ( extracted from Wikipedia ).


This is a question that I toss into the air rather than give you a concrete answer. I discovered this plant at an altitude of about 2000 m in a mountain climate in the middle of August. He had won nearby by grazing. At that moment it occurred to me that a cow, or a horse could perfectly uproot and eat it. Observing, cattle completely avoid this plant with such extreme neatness that they seem to be aware of its toxicity on a human level. We know that it is a genetic issue and rarely (purely accidental cases) we will have animals poisoned by aconite.


The seeds are sold, and of course, nothing prevents you from collecting some plants and reproducing them in your garden. They are beautiful but … The World Health Organization (WHO) declared this plant prohibited for medicinal use due to its high toxicity at low doses. Remember that 3-4 grams of the root (for example) are deadly for a healthy adult. Therefore:

  • If you use your garden from a purely ornamental point of view.
  • You have no pets or animals nearby (cats and dogs tend to purge themselves “with what they catch”).
  • If you don’t have kids
  • Always garden with gloves as a precaution.


With this we get into a somewhat cumbersome and very very dangerous terrain. You can even see homeopathic “recipes” with aconitine … What do you want us to tell you … No matter how infinitesimal the dose … anyway … As a curiosity , we have found a historical compilation of “recipes” with aconite to treat diseases during the last quarter of the 20th century. XIX. Of course, it has come to have a medicinal application as an antiarrhythmic but as we always appeal to pharmaceutical science and not to home remedies whose result can be fatal.

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