Mystical Blossoms: The Legends and Symbolism of Wolf’s Bane

For spikes of dramatic color, wolf’s bane flowers can’t be beaten. Also known as monkshood or aconite, the plant’s deep blue spires add drama to the late summer garden. Wolf bane’s toxic properties have earned it a place in myth and legend; in ancient times, hunters tipped spears and arrows with poison from the plants, and mentions of wolf’s bane figure in artistic works from Ovid, Shakespeare, and Keats to Harry Potter and Game of Thrones. Here, we’ll take you through everything you need to know about Wolf’s Bane flower meaning and symbolism, their history and origins, and their cultural significance around the world today. 

Ultimate Guide to Wolf's Bane Flower Meaning (Aconitum)

Wolf’s Bane (Aconitum) Flower Meaning – The Essentials

In the language of flowers, wolf’s bane signifies caution, treachery, and misanthropy. The flower’s symbolism meant that it was often used as a warning. A gift of wolf’s bane flowers was seen as a symbol to the recipient to take care as danger lies ahead.

Etymological Meaning

Aconitum is thought by some to stem from the Greek word for dart or javelin (akon), a reference to the practice of using the flowers to create poison-tipped arrows. However, others think the name stems from the word akonae, which refers to rocky soil in which the plants grow.

The common name “wolf’s bane” comes from the European practice of using the plant’s poison to kill livestock predators such as wolves. “Monkshood” refers to the shape of the hoods that English monks traditionally wore, which resembles the shape of the flowers.

The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Wolf’s Bane Flowers

The Meaning, Symbolism, and Cultural Significance of Wolf’s Bane Flowers

Wolf’s Bane Flower Colors and Their Meaning

Wolf’s bane flowers bloom in a range of colors, from deep blue to purple, white, and yellow, though the most common ornamental variety, A. napellus, has blue blossoms

In the Victorian language of flowers, the wolf’s bane symbolized caution, misanthropy, and treachery. When given as a gift, wolf’s bane was often used to send a warning and to say take care, for danger lies ahead.

Wolf’s Bane Flower Symbolism in Ancient Times 

The flowers have long been associated with caution and even death. Many ancient cultures used the plants to make a poison that tipped arrows, spears, or javelins that were used to hunt — such as wolves, ibex, whales, and bears — or in war. The flowers are also the stuff of legend. 

In Greek mythology, aconite was said to originate from the slobber of the three-headed dog Cerebrus, guardian of the gates of hell. Ovid wrote that as Heracles chained and dragged the monster out of Hades, the dog’s slobber fell on the ground and aconite flowers grew. The goddess Athena used wolf’s bane to transform Arachne into a spider; Medea used wolf’s bane in wine in an attempt to position Theseus.

European folklore includes the plant in witches’ brews and flying ointments. In the Dark Ages, it was also believed to either cause or cure lycanthropy or “werewolfism.” A 13th-century Japanese folktale tells of servants who mistook dried wolf’s bane for sugar and suffered unpleasant consequences.

Wolf’s Bane Flowers in Art, Literature, and Popular Culture

Shakespeare uses the symbolism of toxic aconitum in Henry IV, describing it as a “venom of suggestion” that can be used to cause problems in relationships. In Hamlet, Laertes uses an aconite-tipped blade to kill Hamlet.

The plants appear in the art and literature of more recent times. The 19th-century poet Keats wrote of the “poisonous vine” in his Ode to Melancholy. In the 1931 film Dracula, wolf’s bane offered protection against vampires.

More recently, in the Harry Potter series, the plant is a subject of discussion in potions class and is used to help prevent a professor from transforming into a werewolf on the full moon. 

Many crime novels, dramas, and films use aconite as a murder weapon, from NCIS to Midsomer Murders; in Game of Thrones, one of Tywin Lannister’s guards is killed by a wolf’s-bane-tipped dart.


Wolf’s Bane Flower FAQs

Why is wolfsbane poisonous? 

Wolfsbane contains the alkaloid aconite, a powerful neuro-, and cardio-toxin. All parts of the plant contain aconite, which when ingested can lead to cardiac and respiratory distress, or even death.

Does wolfsbane have a smell? 

Wolfsbane does not have a strong scent. Typically the fragrance is associated with the soft, green scent of woodlands.

Does wolfsbane grow in America? 

There are several species of wolfsbane native to North America and the U.S. Many other varieties grow as ornamentals.

Is Wolf’s Bane considered invasive? 

Wolf’s bane is not invasive and is considered both deer and rabbit resistant.

Where do Wolf’s Bane flowers grow natively? 

Wolf’s bane is native to the temperate regions of Asia, Europe, and North America.

Wrap-up

The tall spires of wolf’s bane add dramatic color to the late-summer garden. This perennial’s blue, purple, and yellow blooms may be lovely, but every part of the plant is toxic, so care must be taken when planting or gifting. In the Victorian language of flowers, the wolf’s bane signifies treachery, hostility, and caution and warns that trouble may lie ahead.

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