Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms…And the autumn moon is bright. –Lon Chaney, The Wolfman, 1941
This famous poem from the classic film, “The Wolfman,” speaks of plants that signal a time of magical transformation. Those unfortunates attacked by a werewolf change under the light of the full moon into the very beast that bit them.
A woodblock print of wolfbane from Leonard Fuchs 1541 herbal. To see this and many other high resolution woodcuts from Fuch’s Botanical go to http://info.med.yale.edu/library/historical/fuchs/
The ancient herbals are rich with instruction on how to use this infamous plant, wolfbane. It is a blue flowering perennial of Europe that ancient Roman physician Dioscorides referred to as lycotonum. This name is linked with the phenomenon lycanthropy, the turning of a human into a wolf when the moon is full. It’s derived from the Greek for lykoi or “wolf” and anthropos, “man.”
What they did know is that the highly toxic juice of the wolfbane plant, now known as monkshood, Aconitum napellus, could indeed kill wolves. Arrows tipped with it or baits laced with this plant would poison the predators that once prowled Europe. Naturally it was thought Acontium would destroy the curse of a wolfman as well.
A beautiful rendering of Acontium napellus from Kohlers Medizinal Plantzen. To find this and similar high resolution botanical images go to http://caliban.mpiz-koeln.mpg.de/~stueber/koehler/
Wolfbane is a great example of how to better understand old herbals and traditional names of medicinal plants. The English language herbals, originally written by hand, became far more common knowledge after 15th century invention of printing press. The two primary authors are Gerard and Culpepper, whose original herbals are still in print today. They are compendiums of accumulated plant lore and botanical cures invaluable when plants held the only medicines available.
Click here to access the MoPlants.com links to old illustrated herbals online at http://www.moplants.com/digital_crafts/botanical_archives.php
HAPPY HALLOWEEN FROM ALL OF US AT MoPlants.com!