Aconite as Herbal Medicine

Aconite is the common name for any of 100 or more related species in the Aconitum genus. Two of the species, Aconitum napellus and Aconitum carmichaeli are used medicinally. The more popular remedy, Aconitum napellus, is a plant that grows in mountainous regions of Central Asia, Russia, Europe, and Great Britain.

This perennial plant from the Ranunculaceae family grows to a height of 3 ft (1 m) and has dark green, glossy leaves and dark blue flowers. Other names for aconite are wolf’s bane, monkshood, blue rocket, and friar’s cap. Wolf’s bane is a direct translation of the Greek word Lycotonum.

The Greeks left the plant as poisonous bait for wolves or moistened arrows with the juice of the herb in order to kill wolves. The plant was nicknamed monkshood and friar’s cap because of the shape of the flowers. The plant in its fresh form is highly poisonous. The poison comes from the toxic alkaloid aconitine.

Aconitine is found in the whole plant but is concentrated mainly in the root. Symptoms of poisoning include tingling; numbness of the tongue and mouth; nausea and vomiting; labored breathing; a weak and irregular pulse; and cold, clammy skin. Even the smallest amounts of aconitine inside the mouth cause burning, tingling, and numbness.

As little as 2 mg of aconitine can cause death in four hours, which may be one reason why aconite is often chosen by people attempting suicide by poison. The Australian government has declared all species of aconite unfit for human consumption.

If symptoms do not improve after the recommended time period, individuals should consult their homeopath or other healthcare practitioner. Do not exceed the recommended dosage. Use Aconitum carmichaeli only under supervision of a Chinese medical practitioner. Aconite is poisonous and should not be consumed in its raw state.

Persons who gather wild plants to eat should be very careful in identifying what they are gathering. Cases have been reported of aconite poisoning in people who thought they were gathering mountain chicory. Women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or who are breastfeeding should not use Aconitum carmichaeli.

Symptoms of poisoning by the fresh aconite plant include tingling, numbness of the tongue and mouth, nausea, vomiting, labored breathing, a weak and irregular pulse, and cold, clammy skin. In cases of severe poisoning, aconite can produce extreme symptoms that include severe pain, convulsions, paralysis, confusion, seizures, and heart failure.

The only established treatment for aconite poisoning is supportive; that is, there is no antidote. Most liniments or lotions made with aconite for external use contain a 1.3% concentration of the herb.

Use of these preparations must be limited to unbroken skin, as aconite can be absorbed through the skin and cause toxic symptoms. If a skin reaction occurs, use of the liniment must be discontinued immediately.

When taking any homeopathic remedy, individuals should not use peppermint products, coffee, or alcohol. These products make the remedy ineffective. Aconitum carmichaeli should not be used by individuals with a deficiency of yin, or coolness, or with signs of heat such as fever, redness, and agitation.