Murder What poisons can kill people

Poisonous plant with a criminal past

If you have children, you shouldn't plant the blue monkshood in the garden! Because this attractive perennial with its blue, helmet-like flowers is not only the most poisonous plant in Europe. As a "murder weapon" it has also brought a lot of suffering and death to people. Read another exciting article in our casual series about famous medicinal plants.

According to Greek mythology, this poisonous plant originated when the son of Zeus Heracles brought the guardian of the realm of the dead, the three-headed dog Cerberus, from the underworld to earth. Blinded by daylight, the monster drooled poisonous saliva. It fell to the ground and from it grew the monkshood, the poison of which can transport all living things into the realm of the dead.

Even in ancient Greece, poisoning was part of everyday life and the trade in poisons flourished despite the threat of severe penalties. So here was the possession of aconite, the blue iron hat, the death penalty. In spite of this, many poisoners - mostly women - lived well and unchallenged in antiquity because their services were often needed and poisonous murders were seldom solved. “It is more difficult to recognize poison than an enemy!” This saying by the Roman rhetoric teacher Quintilianus (around 80 AD) makes it clear that in ancient Rome, too, certain poisons were often used to eliminate unpopular people. The famous poet Ovid (43 BC to 18 AD) described the monkshood as the poison used by stepmothers. The Roman satirist Juvenal (around 60 to 127 AD) points out the preferred use of aconite in the Roman upper class: “Aconita is not drunk from earthen jugs. Because only he who brings a gem-studded mug to his mouth will fear them. ”The dried and powdered monkshood root or an extract made from it was used for criminal purposes. To kill, aconite powder was also sprinkled on pillows or gloves dipped in an aconite extract.

Witches' ointments and werewolves

Despite its toxicity and the associated danger, monkshood was also used in witch's ointments in the Middle Ages. If the women rub it in, the alkaloids of the nightshade family acted on the central nervous system and put the supposed witches into pleasant dreams and hallucinations. Today, science blames aconitine for the transformation into a cat, a dog or the dreaded werewolf when intoxicated: it first excites the sensitive nerve endings in the skin, then it paralyzes them. This effect can certainly make you feel as if you are growing a fur. In order to prevent abuse, the legal trade in poisons was regulated by strict regulations in the Middle Ages. They were part of pharmacists' oaths, medical regulations and certificates of appointment of pharmacists.

Antidots: expensive but ineffective

The constant danger of a poison attack caused the rulers and the privileged in particular to seek defensive measures against poisons at an early stage. Because they were the preferred victims of poisoning. The antidotes, which were traded for horrific sums, were particularly popular. Antidota - taken in the case of poisoning - should neutralize the effect of the poison and thus render it harmless. However, the scientific investigation of certain antidotes from bygone times showed that most of the drugs - despite the high prices - were pharmacologically ineffective. This is also proven by the Prague poison experiment reported by the famous doctor Mattioli (1501–1577) in his “Kreuterbuch”. As the personal physician of Emperor Ferdinand I, Mattioli took part in a macabre experiment in Prague in 1561: The emperor had acquired an antidote (“famous powder against all things”), the effectiveness of which he now wanted to test. A thief sentenced to death is selected as the test subject. This man is promised freedom if he survives. In the presence of the emperor, "Doctorn and other Namhrachtiger people", the thief eats the roots, flowers and leaves of the blue monkshood to then try out the emperor's antidote. After 2 hours, the thief complains of tiredness and heart pain. When a cold sweat hits his forehead and his pulse weakens, the thief is given the antidote dissolved in wine to drink. But it doesn't help! "Since he drank / he used his eyes ugly / locked and tugged his mouth / bent his neck ... and made himself unclean. Then you lay him on the straw / then he complains / how he shudders or chills / after that he broke / and speyed a lot of stinking waste and water apart from colors yellow and pale black ... so died gently without any other coincidences and agitation / as if he were falling asleep. His face turned pale black. "

The blue monkshood (Aconitum napellus) ...
... is a perennial up to 1.5 m high, forms beautiful dark blue to dark purple flowers in dense clusters, the top sepal of which is shaped like a knight's helmet. Hence the name iron or storm hat. Originally a mountain plant, monkshood can now be found as an ornamental plant in many gardens. Flowering time is June to August.

Popular in homeopathy

Because of the great toxicity of monkshood or aconitine and the limited therapeutic range, this poisonous plant is no longer used in medicine. For this, the monkshood is very popular in homeopathy as aconite (up to D3 prescription). Here Aconitum is the first remedy for all acute pain, illnesses and (febrile) inflammations, but is also used for anxiety and panic states. In homeopathy, Aconitum has proven itself in alternation with Belladonna for the treatment of colds with fever and sweats. Aconitum is part of many homeopathic complex remedies for colds.

The toxicology of monkshood
The main active ingredient, the alkaloid aconitine, is found in all parts of the plant, but especially in the tubers (0.2 - 3%). As little as 1.5 to 5 mg aconitine kill a person. For animals - especially horses - even smaller amounts are sufficient. In the case of the dried tubers, the lethal dose is 1 to 2 g. In toxicology, aconitine is one of the most powerful biogenic poisons. Even touching or picking the plant is dangerous because the aconitine can be absorbed through the uninjured skin. If aconitine or parts of plants get into the mouth and stomach, the first symptoms of poisoning will soon appear: Paresthesia in the hands and feet, paralysis in the facial area and an unbearable feeling of cold throughout the body. This is followed by numbness and paralysis in the arms and legs, difficult breathing, dizziness, ringing in the ears, vomiting and diarrhea. Depending on the amount of poison, death occurs in half an hour or within 3 hours due to respiratory paralysis or heart failure. The very severe pain up to death is striking. Consciousness remains until the end. The toxicological effect of aconitine has been clarified: it increases the permeability of irritable membranes for sodium ions, prolongs the sodium influx during the action potential and delays repolarization. Receptors for aconitine could be detected in nerve and heart cells. Aconitine thus initially has a stimulating, later paralyzing effect on sensory and motor nerve endings as well as on the central nervous system. In the heart, the sodium-calcium exchange initially has a positive inotropic effect, but then soon arrhythmias.