The common name for the 250 plants of the genus aconitum, also known as aconite, monkshood, the Devil's helmet, or (disturbingly) wifesbane. A highly poisonous flowering plant closely related to buttercups, the toxins can easily soak through the skin. Wolfsbane kills quickly (within six hours of consumption) and the symptoms are almost immediate: vomiting and diarrhea, followed by a sensation of burning, tingling, and numbness in the mouth and face, and of burning in the abdomen. In severe poisonings, pronounced motor weakness occurs and cutaneous sensations of tingling and numbness spread to the limbs. Heart, lung, and organ failure soon follows.
Wolfsbane has been ascribed with supernatural powers in the mythology relating to the werewolf and similar creatures, either to repel them, relating to wolfsbane's use in poisoning wolves and other animals, or in some way induce their transformation, as wolfsbane was often an important ingredient in witches' magic ointments. In folklore, wolfsbane was also said to make a person into a werewolf if it is worn, smelled, or eaten. They are also said to kill werewolves if they wear, smell, or eat aconite.
The poisons extracted from wolfsbane are difficult to detect and can easily be disguised in food or drink; aconite certainly deserves the title given by the ancient Greeks as "the Queen of Poisons".
Cleopatra VI of Egypt was known for testing poisons on slaves, war prisoners, and even her servants to see which ones were the quickest or the least painful. She was said by the Romans to have poisoned her youngest brother by lacing his food with wolfsbane.
Cleopatra might not have actually died from a snake bite at all; historians think that she could easily have killed herself by a cocktail of opium, wolfsbane, and hemlock.
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