Medical Use of Aconite

Herbalists have used aconite as a medicine for hundreds of years. However, in ancient times the herb was known more for its power to kill rather than heal; it was often used in ancient Rome to commit murders. The herb acts as a diuretic (a substance that promotes urination) and diaphoretic (a substance that causes sweating).

Tinctures are taken internally to slow fevers, pneumonia, laryngitis, and acute tonsillitis. Liniments or ointments made from the herb are applied externally to relieve the pain of neuralgia and rheumatism.

Aconitum carmichaeli is used in traditional Chinese medicine. It is called Fu Zi (sometimes Fu Tzu) in Mandarin; in other parts of China and in Hong Kong, it is known as chuan wou tou. This herb is used to treat rheumatism, bruises, arthritis, acute hypothermia, diarrhea, and impotence.

The herb has a sweet, spicy taste. The main function of Fu Zi is to warm the interior of the body. It also works to restore collapsed yang, warm kidney fire, warm the kidney and spleen, drive out the cold, warm the meridians, and relieve pain.

Fu Zi is also used by traditional Chinese herbalists in conditions marked by deficient kidney and spleen yang or in conditions with early morning diarrhea or lack of appetite. Aconitum carmichaeli also contains the toxic alkaloid aconitine. After cooking the herb, the alkaloid is converted to aconine, which is not as toxic.

This herb is poisonous. When it is properly prepared as recommended by a Chinese medicine practitioner, there are rarely any adverse effects. Chinese pharmacies do not sell raw, untreated aconite, as the plant should be dried and then brewed for long periods of time.

However, cases of aconite poisoning have been reported in Asian countries, including some that ended in the patient’s death from heart arrhythmias. It appears that most of these cases were due either to the herbalist’s prescribing a larger dose of aconite than was needed, or to the patient’s attempting to prepare the remedy at home.

Homeopaths prescribe aconite for conditions that come on suddenly as a result of grief, fear, anger, shock, or exposure to cold, dry wind. It is also recommended for people troubled by suicidal thoughts.

The remedy is short-acting and is indicated at the onset of acute conditions such as croup, colds, cough, bronchitis, eye and ear infections, headaches, and rheumatism. This remedy is one of the best substances for treating measles, arthritis, and pneumonia when all of the symptoms are present.

Aconite is also useful at the beginning of a fever, in early stages of inflammation, and following shock caused by an injury or surgery.

Aconite is available as a homeopathic remedy or in dried bulk form, as an ointment or liniment, and as a tincture. Pharmacies, health food stores, and Chinese herbal stores carry the various preparations. They are also available as prescribed by a herbalist, homeopathic doctor, or Chinese medicine practitioner.

The whole plant is used in Western herbal medicine. The leaves and flowers are cut when the flowers are in blossom in June. The roots are collected after the stem has died off, usually in August. The root is dried before use while the leaves, stems, and flowers are used fresh.

The homeopathic preparation of aconite is created in the following manner. When the flowers are in full bloom, the whole plant—but not the root—is collected and pounded to a pulp. The juice from the pulp is pressed and mixed with alcohol. The mixture is then strained and diluted.

The final homeopathic remedy is created after the diluted mixture is repeatedly succussed (pounded against a hard surface to break down and mix the substance). The remedy is available at health-food and drug stores in various potencies in the form of tinctures, tablets, and pellets. In traditional Chinese medicine, the aconite root is generally used in small amounts in combination with other herbs.