Aconite

Scientific names: Aconitum napellus L., Aconitum carmichaelii Debeaux, and Aconitum kusnezoffii Rchb. Family: Ranunculaceae (buttercups).

Common names: Aconite tuber, monkshood, friar's cap, helmet flower, soldier's cap, wolfsbane, devil's helmet, blue rocket, leopard's bane, chuanwu, caowu, wutou, futzu, and bushi.

Efficacy-safety rating:

ÒÒ...Ethno or other evidence of efficacy.

Safety rating:

...Moderate to serious danger.

What is Aconite?

These perennial plants grow to a height of 0.6 to 1.5 m and resemble delphiniums. Aconite has characteristic helmet-shaped blue or purple flowers. Occasionally, the flowers may be white, pink, peach, or yellow. More than 100 species of Aconitum are found throughout the temperate zones of the United States and Canada. These plants also are found throughout many parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. They contain poisonous alkaloids such as aconitine.

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What is it used for?

Traditional/Ethnobotanical uses

Various species of Aconitum have been used for centuries both as poisons and medicines. The root is the most toxic plant part, although all parts are considered to be toxic. Extracts of Aconitum species have been given orally in traditional medicine to reduce fever associated with colds, pneumonia, laryngitis, croup, and asthma; for pain, inflammation, and high blood pressure; as a diuretic; to cause sweating; to slow heart rate; and for sedation. In traditional Asian medicine, root extracts are typically mixed with licorice or ginger. Extracts also have been used as arrow poisons. Historically, aconite was most commonly used in Western cultures as a tincture. It was applied topically as a counterirritant liniment for neuralgia, rheumatism, and sciatica. In homeopathy, aconite is used to treat fear, anxiety, and restlessness; acute sudden fever; symptoms from exposure to dry, cold weather or very hot weather; tingling, coldness, and numbness; influenza or colds with congestion; and heavy, pulsating headaches.

What is the recommended dosage?

Extreme caution is required. Fresh aconite is extremely toxic, and safe dosage is dependent on processing. Many species are used medicinally in China only after processing. Traditional Western texts recommended 60 mg of the root per dose.

How safe is it?

Contraindications

Contraindications have not yet been identified.

Pregnancy/nursing

Documented adverse effects. In addition to oral administration, external application is reported to cause toxic symptoms. Avoid use.

Interactions

None well documented.

Side Effects

No data.

Toxicities

Aconitine is highly toxic. As little as 2 mg of pure aconite or 1 g of plant may cause death from paralysis of the respiratory center or cardiac muscle. Clinically important toxicity may develop following percutaneous absorption; even slight contact with the flowers can cause fingers to become numb.

References

  1. Aconite. Review of Natural Products. Facts & Comparisons 4.0. St. Louis, MO: Wolters Kluwer Health, Inc.; July 2009.

Copyright © 2009 Wolters Kluwer Health

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