Friday, April 29, 2016

Poisoning People for Fun and Profit—Part 2: Wolfsbane

Wolfsbane, aka Monkshood or Devil's Helmet (aconitum) is one of the more magical and romantic-sounding poisons. It carries connotations of witch's brews and wizardry. It often appears in fantasy novels and is rumored to turn people into werewolves. 

But it's very real. And very nasty. People can be poisoned by simply touching the leaves of the plant, since it can be absorbed through the skin, and strong enough tincture can cause almost instantaneous death. 

Wolfsbane is also known as Monkshood
The victims appear to die of suffocation, because it causes the heart and lungs to stop functioning. If the dosage hasn't been very high, a victim can be saved if they get treatment within the hour. Charcoal can decontaminate the intestinal tract, and Lidocaine or similar drugs will combat the heart arrhythmia. 

But without treatment, death usually happens within two to six hours. 

The initial signs are nausea and vomiting, followed by tingling and numbness in the face and burning in the abdomen.
Aconitum napellum

The numbness then spreads to the arms and legs, and the victim will feel dizzy and confused.

Death is caused by paralysis of the heart and lungs. The only post-mortem signs are the same as asphyxiation. 

The flowering plant is a lovely purple color and grows in moist, shady soil. Over 250 species of it are found all over the world. It belongs to the genus Ranunculaceae and is a cousin of the innocent buttercup.

Wolfsbane is related to the buttercup

Aconite has been used since ancient times, and early Greeks used it on their arrows to kill their enemies more quickly. (The word aconitum probably comes from "akon" the Greek word for "arrow".) In Greek mythology, Medea attempted to kill Theseus using aconite.

The emperor Claudius is said to have been poisoned by his wife, Agrippina, using aconite in a plate of mushrooms, and the Romans subsequently made it illegal to grow the plant.

Aconitum variega

In small doses it also has medicinal properties, and is used in Ayurvedic and Chinese traditional medicine.

The victim in my fifth Camilla book So Much for Buckingham is poisoned with wolfsbane, and because Plantagenet discovers the body—and he had been seen admiring wolfsbane flowers in the nearby garden earlier—he is arrested for the murder. 

Does it protect you from vampires? 
A docent warns him not to touch it, and hints that it might turn him into a werewolf. But much more mundane horrors are in store.

Wolfsbane is very common—and amazingly versatile—in werewolf mythology. Some stories say the plant can turn people into werewolves and others say it can prevent the transformation. In the Vampire Diaries, wolfsbane protects vampires from werewolves, and in the classic 1931 film Dracula, it's used to protect people from vampires.

Personally, I think I'd rather take my chances with the vampires.

SO MUCH FOR BUCKINGHAM: Camilla Mystery #5

This comic novel—which takes its title from the most famous Shakespearean quote that Shakespeare never wrote—explores how easy it is to perpetrate a character assassination whether by a great playwright or a gang of online trolls.

It's a laugh-out-loud mashup of romantic comedy, crime fiction, and satire: Dorothy Parker meets Dorothy L. Sayers. Perennially down-and-out socialite Camilla Randall--a.k.a. "The Manners Doctor"--is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but she always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way. Usually with more than a little help from her gay best friend, Plantagenet Smith. n this hilarious episode she makes the mistake of responding to an online review of one of her etiquette guides and sets off a chain of events that leads to arson, attempted rape and murder. 

Sample reviews:
"Delicious wit, wonderful eccentric characters, and a beguiling plot. Camilla Randall is a delight!"...Melodie Campbell, "Canada's Queen of Comedy."

"Both a comedic romance and a crime suspense thriller, it presents the 'Perils of Pauline' adventures of a modern author, Camilla, whose mad-cap follies are hugely entertaining. But the novel has a serious undertone of social comment. Even the craziest of its zanies have their counterparts in the real world and the author faithfully depicts their grim, and often deadly, sub-cultures behind a veneer of knockabout wit. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys romance, and crime suspense, with a lethally satiric edge." Dr. John Yeoman.

"Anne Allen's ability to weave throughout her stories a current social commentary easily and throughout the story amazes me. She does this without jeopardizing her plot or her characters' development." blogger Sherrey Meyer

So Much for Buckingham is available in ebook at all the Amazons,

And in paperback you can find it at


  1. Beautiful and deadly. It's interesting that it causes lycanthropy in some myths and poisons werewolves in others.

    1. Ronel--I guess the myths follow the reality that most poisons can also cure illnesses--so they can do opposite things, depending on circumstances. But it would be hard to decide, if you were a werewolf, if you should touch it or not. :-)

  2. What a fun series Anne! And I just happen to be working on two stories that need poisons... Now this is really fun research! LOL

    1. Susan--I was doing just that--and realized that a lot of fellow writers and mystery readers would be interested too. Next week is hemlock--which grows all over the place around here, so it's great for a mystery set in California.

  3. There's a wonderful description of wolfsbane (and other useful poisons) in Mrs Grieve's A Modern Herbal - searchable on the web. Its most potent form - Bikh - came from the East Indies. I used it in one of my historical novels, as the poison Buckingham (allegedly) used to finish off his beloved King James I, in a mercy killing.

    A Chinese herbalist in the UK used aconite in recent years to murder her husband. She thought a poison so rare would be undetectable. It wasn't. She was jailed.

    1. Dr. John--Thanks for the tip! I'll definitely check it out. I didn't know that a Duke of Buckingham killed James I. I'll check out your book, too. Glad to hear the aconite poisoner didn't get away with it.

  4. Another excellent post, Anne. Thank you for doing this series!

    1. Melodie--Thanks for stopping by! I think Monkshood is my favorite poison. It's so deceptively pretty.