aconite (ăkˈənĪt) [key], monkshood, or wolfsbane, any of several species of the genus Aconitum of the family Ranunculaceae (buttercup family), hardy perennial plants of the north temperate zone, growing wild or cultivated for ornamental or medicinal purposes. They contain violent poisons that were recognized from early times and were mentioned by Shakespeare (2 King Henry IV, iv:4); more recently they have been used medicinally in a liniment, tincture, and drug, and in India on spears and arrows for hunting. The drug aconite, the active principle of which is the alkaloid aconitine, is used as a sedative, e.g., for neuralgia and rheumatism, and is obtained from A. napellus. Aconites are erect or trailing, with deeply cut leaves and, in late summer and fall, hooded showy flowers of blue, yellow, purple, or white. The name wolfsbane derives from an old superstition that the plant repelled werewolves. Winter aconite is a name for plants of the genus Eranthis, wild or garden perennials of the same family. Aconites are classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Ranunculales, family Ranunculaceae.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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