Aconite - The Herb

Page Summary:

General description, origin and history of Aconite
Primary therapeutic effects of Aconite
Minor and potential therapeutic effects of Aconite
Cultivating Aconite - how to grow Aconite
Preparing Aconite remedies and part used
Side effects or contra-indications of Aconite
Properties of Aconite
Constituents of Aconite

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Common Name/s: Other Name/s: Botanical  name/s:
Monkshood, Wolfsbane Blue Rocket, Friar's Cap Aconitum napellus, and several other subspecies including:
Aconitum lycoctonum, Aconitum Japonicum

General description and domicile:
Because there are so many subspecies it is very difficult to pinpoint precisely where each originated. Aconitum Napellus is native to Europe and Britain and the other subspecies occur in eastern Europe to deep into Asia.
It is an erect and very robust plant that grows to 40 inches in meadows and damp lower slopes of mountains. Aconitum napellus has an attractive purple/blue flower while A. lycoctonum has equally striking yellow flowers. The plant flowers from spring to early autumn.
Monkshood is possibly the most toxic plant in Europe and I find it incredible that it is still used as a decorative garden plant in parts of Europe. Some claim that the cultivated garden varieties are not as poisonous but even if these claims are true it is much too dangerous to have in a garden.
The root is fleshy and dark brown when mature (young roots are much paler).

Aconite rose to fame in Ancient Greek and Roman times when assassination was a popular way of dealing with opposing rulers and poisoning the favorite method. 

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Remedy Profile
Primary therapeutic effects:
A deadly poison that affects both the central nervous system and the heart. With the exception of Homeopathy aconite is not used internally in the US. In Chinese medicine and India it is used for shock and heart disease. It is also used in some pharmacological treatments to induce arrhythmia.
Symptoms of poisoning are a tingling numbness of the mouth, a sensation that the "skin is crawling", nausea followed by vomiting, abdominal pain, weakened pulse, irregular, labored breathing, giddiness and vertigo followed soon by death as a result of cardiac failure.

Decoctions and tinctures are used in topical applications (either in an ointment or compress) to ease the pain of lumbago, arthritis and rheumatism, but care must be taken because absorption by the skin may cause systemic poisoning.

Because of the incredibly high risk of fatality this herb is not recommended for use. The only exceptions are homeopathic remedies or over the shelf ointments from a reputable manufacturer and even then overdosing could become an issue.

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Secondary therapeutic effects:

None worth the risk.

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Minor and potential therapeutic effects:
These are differentiated from the major therapeutic effects of Aconite for the following reasons: either the constituent that causes the effect is relatively weak (in other words marginal efficacy) or the constituent causing the effect is present in Aconite but in such small quantities that it is too low in dosage.
Potential therapeutic effects are also noted here when there is some evidence of effect or efficacy but the information is either anecdotal or subjected to too little testing to be conclusive. Not all herbs have minor effects noted.

Pharmacological studies into the neural and cardiac effect of the constituents in this plant is still continuing but to date little value has come from it as the risk associated with dosage is far too high.

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How to choose the right remedy/Herb:
In many cases there are several herbal remedies to choose from. This can be very confusing. Our Choose the Herbal Remedy page explains how to refine your choice

Cultivation of Aconite:
The only reason that anyone would want to grow aconite is as a decorative garden plant and then it is foolish seeing that pets or children need very little contact with the plant to die.
The plant is relatively easy to grow providing it is in a shady and damp spot.

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Part used:
Some only use the roots, others the entire plant. Take great care because terpenoid alkaloids (the toxic part of this plant) can be absorbed through the skin.


Remedy preparation:
Do not prepare this remedy yourself unless you are experienced in the handling of toxic substances. As I can only see an application as an anodyne and anti-inflammatory in the case of arthritis or rheumatism, I absolutely fail to see the benefit in using aconite rather than many other herbs that do not have this incredibly high risk of causing a very sudden and unpleasant death.

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Do not use! Get something less dangerous.

I am tempted to write "Do not give to anyone that is alive" but fear that this would be seen as black humor but instead I mean it. Why anyone would want to take a virulent poison while still alive beats me and if the intention is suicide this has to be one of the worst and most unpleasant ways to go.


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Aconitine - C34H47NO11:

Aconitine is a very poisonous terpenoid alkaloid similar to the poison found in the very toxic puffer fish, which has been responsible for many deaths. It attacks the Central Nervous System as well as the cardiac system and even in low doses will cause death due to cardiac arrest. Aconitine is not soluble in water.

Terpenoid alkaloids:

A group of very toxic alkaloids

Although there are many other terpenoid alkaloids present in aconite aconitine and aconine, the hydrolyzed aconitine, makes up the bulk of the constituents. The others may be less toxic but still dangerous.



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