From The Plant Encyclopedia
aconite, monkshood, wolf's bane, leopard's bane, women's bane, devil's helmet or blue rocket
3 - 20
- Cultivation: Easy-To-Grow, For-Gardeners
- Light: Sun, Dappled, Part-Shade
- Soil: Rich, Loam
- pH: 7
- Moisture: Wet, Medium, Well-Drained
- Form: Groundcover, Herbaceous
- Habit: Perennial
- Flower: Medium, Purple
- Fruit/Seed: Small
- Foliage: Leaves, Green
- Uses: Ornamental
Aconitum known as aconite, monkshood, wolfsbane, leopard's bane, women's bane, Devil's helmet or blue rocket, is a Genus of over 250 Species of flowering Plants belonging to the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).
These herbaceous Perennial plants are chiefly natives of the mountainous parts of the northern hemisphere, growing in moisture retentive but well draining Soils on mountain meadows. Their dark green leaves lack stipules. They are palmate or deeply palmately lobed with 5–7 segments. Each segment again is 3-lobed with coarse sharp teeth. The leaves have a spiral or alternate arrangement. The lower leaves have long petioles.
The tall, erect stem is crowned by Racemes of large Blue, Purple, White, Yellow or Pink zygomorphic Flowers with numerous Stamens. They are distinguishable by having one of the five petaloid Sepals (the posterior one), called the galea, in the form of a cylindrical helmet; hence the English name monkshood. There are 2–10 Petals, in the form of nectaries. The two upper petals are large. They are placed under the hood of the calyx and are supported on long stalks. They have a hollow spur at their apex, containing the nectar. The other petals are small and scale like or non forming. The 3–5 Carpels are partially fused at the base.
The Fruit is a follicle, a follicle being a dry, unilocular, many-seeded fruit formed from one carpel, and dehiscing by the ventral suture in order to release seeds.
The roots of Aconitum ferox supply the Nepalese poison called bikh, bish, or nabee. It contains large quantities of the alkaloid Pseudaconitine, which is a deadly Poison. Aconitum palmatum yields another of the bikh poisons. The root of Aconitum luridum, of the Himalaya, is said to be as poisonous as that of A. ferox or A. napellus.
Several species of Aconitum have been used as arrow poisons. The Minaro in Ladakh use A. napellus on their arrows to hunt Ibex, while the Ainu in Japan used a species of Aconitum to hunt Bear.<ref>Peissel, Michel. 1984. The Ants’ Gold. The Discovery of the Greek El Dorado in the Himalayas. London, Harvill Press, pp. 99-100.</ref> The Chinese also used Aconitum poisons both for hunting<ref>Sung, Ying-hsing. T’ien kung k’ai wu. Sung Ying-hsing. 1637. Published as Chinese Technology in the seventeenth century. Translated and annotated by E-tu Zen Sun and Shiou-chuan Sun. 1996. Mineola. New York. Dover Publications, p. 267.</ref> and for warfare.<ref>Chavannes, Édouard. “Trois Généraux Chinois de la dynastie des Han Orientaux. Pan Tch’ao (32-102 p.C.); – son fils Pan Yong; – Leang K’in (112 p.C.). Chapitre LXXVII du Heou Han chou.”. 1906. T’oung pao 7, pp. 226-227.</ref>
Many species of Aconitum are cultivated in gardens, having either blue or yellow flowers. Aconitum lycoctonum (Alpine wolfsbane) is a yellow-flowered species common in the Alps of Switzerland. As garden plants the aconites are very ornamental, hardy Perennial plants. They thrive in the garden soils, and will grow in the shade of trees. They are easily propagated by divisions of the root or by seeds; care should be taken not to leave pieces of the root where Livestock might be poisoned.
The most common plant in this genus, Aconitum napellus (the Common Monkshood) was considered in the past to be of therapeutic and of toxicological importance. Its roots have occasionally been mistaken for Horseradish. When touched to one's lip, the juice of the aconite root produces a feeling of Numbness and tingling. This plant is used as a food plant by some Lepidoptera species including Dot Moth, The Engrailed, Mouse Moth, Wormwood Pug, and Yellow-tail.
Traditional usesAyurveda the herb is used to increase pitta (fire, bile) dosha and to enhance penetration in small doses. However more frequently the herb is detoxified according to the samskaras process and studies, cited in the detoxification section below show that it no longer possesses active toxicity. It is used in Traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for Yang deficiency, "coldness", general debilitation. The herb is considered hot and toxic. It is prepared in extremely small doses. More frequently ginger processed aconite, of lower toxicity, "fu zi" is used. Aconite is one ingredient of Tribhuvankirti, an Ayurvedic preparation for treating a "cold in the head" and fever.<ref name="Thatte1993">Thatte UM, Rege NN, Phatak SD, Dahanukar SA (1 October 1993). "The flip side of Ayurveda". Journal of postgraduate medicine 39 (4): 179–82. PMID 7996491. http://www.jpgmonline.com/article.asp?issn=0022-3859;year=1993;volume=39;issue=4;spage=179;epage=82,182a;aulast=Thatte. </ref> Aconite was mixed with patrinia and coix, in a famous treatment for Appendicitis described in a formula from the Jingui Yaolue (ca. 220 A.D.)<ref>"VALERIAN AND NARDOSTACHYS". http://www.itmonline.org/arts/valerian.htm. </ref> Aconite was also described in Greek and Roman medicine by Theophrastus, Dioscorides, and Pliny the Elder, who most likely prescribed the Alpine species Aconitum lycoctonum. The herb was cultivated widely in Europe, probably reaching England before the tenth century, where it was farmed with some difficulty, but came to be widely valued as an Anodyne, Diuretic, and Diaphoretic.<ref>"A Modern Herbal". http://botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/a/aconi007.html. </ref> In the nineteenth century much aconite was imported from China, Japan, Fiji, and Tonga, with a number of species used to manufacture alkaloids of varying potency but generally similar effect, most often used externally and rarely internally. Effects of different preparations were standardized by testing on Guinea pigs.<ref name="John1881">John M. Maisch, M.D. (1881). Gleanings in Materia Medica. 53. http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/journals/ajp1881/09-gleanings.html. </ref>
In Western medicine preparations of aconite were used until just after the middle of the 20th century, but it is no longer employed as it has been replaced by safer and more effective drugs and treatments. The 1911 British Pharmaceutical Codex regarded the medical uses and toxicity of aconite root or leaves to be virtually identical to that of purified Aconitine.<ref>"The British Pharmaceutical Codex". 1911. http://www.henriettesherbal.com/eclectic/bpc1911/aconitum-nape.html. </ref> Aconite first stimulates and later paralyses/numbs the nerves to the sensations of pain, touch, and temperature if applied to the skin or to a mucous membrane; the initial tingling therefore gives place to a long-continued anaesthetic action. Great caution was required, as abraded skin could absorb a dangerous dose of the drug, and merely tasting some of the concentrated preparations available could be fatal. The local anaesthesia of peripheral nerves can be attributed to at least eleven alkaloids with varying potency and stability.<ref name="Bello2004">Bello-Ramírez AM, Nava-Ocampo AA (2004-04). "The local anesthetic activity of Aconitum alkaloids can be explained by their structural properties: a QSAR analysis". Fundam Clin Pharmacol 18 (2): 157–61. doi:10.1111/j.1472-8206.2004.00222.x. PMID 15066129. </ref>
Internal uses were also pursued, to slow the pulse, as a sedative in pericarditis and heart palpitations, and well diluted as a mild Diaphoretic, or to reduce feverishness in treatment of colds, pneumonia, quinsy, laryngitis, croup, and asthma due to exposure. Taken internally, aconite acts very notably on the circulation, the respiration, and the nervous system. The pulse is slowed, the number of beats per minute being actually reduced, under considerable doses, to forty, or even thirty, per minute. The blood-pressure synchronously falls, and the heart is arrested in Diastole. Immediately before arrest, the heart may beat much faster than normally, though with extreme irregularity, and in animals the auricles may be observed occasionally to miss a beat, as in poisoning by Veratrine and Colchicum. The action of aconitine on the circulation is due to an initial stimulation of the cardio-inhibitory centre in the Medulla oblongata (at the root of the Vagus nerves), and later to a directly toxic influence on the nerve-ganglia and muscular fibres of the heart itself. The fall in blood-pressure is not due to any direct influence on the vessels. The respiration becomes slower owing to a paralytic action on the respiratory centre and, in warm-blooded animals, death is due to this action, the respiration being arrested before the action of the heart. Aconite further depresses the activity of all nerve-terminals, the sensory being affected before the motor. In small doses, it therefore tends to relieve pain, if this is present. The activity of the spinal cord is similarly depressed. The pupil is at first contracted, and afterwards dilated. The cerebrum is totally unaffected by aconite, consciousness and the intelligence remaining normal to the last. The Antipyretic action which considerable doses of aconite display is not specific but is the result of its influence on the circulation and respiration and of its slight diaphoretic action.
Marked symptoms may appear almost immediately, usually not later than one hour, and "with large doses death is almost instantaneous." Death usually occurs within 2 to 6 hours in fatal poisoning (20 to 40 mL of tincture may prove fatal).<ref name="ref_">The Extra Pharmacopoeia Martindale. Vol. 1, 24th edition. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1958, page 38.</ref> The initial signs are Gastrointestinal including nausea, Vomiting, and Diarrhea. There is followed by a sensation of burning, tingling, and numbness in the mouth and face, and of burning in the abdomen. In severe poisonings pronounced motor weakness occurs and cutaneous sensations of tingling and numbness spread to the limbs. Cardiovascular features include Hypotension, Bradycardia, Sinus tachycardia, and ventricular Arrhythmias. Other features may include sweating, dizziness, difficulty in breathing, headache, and confusion. The main causes of death are ventricular arrhythmias and asystole, paralysis of the heart or of the respiratory center.<ref name="Chan">Chan TY (April 2009). "Aconite poisoning". Clin Toxicol (Phila) 47 (4): 279–85. doi:10.1080/15563650902904407. PMID 19514874. </ref><ref name="ref_" /> The only post-mortem signs are those of Asphyxia.
Treatment of poisoning is mainly supportive. All patients require close monitoring of Blood pressure and Cardiac rhythm. Gastrointestinal decontamination with Activated charcoal can be used if given within 1 hour of ingestion.<ref name="Chyka2005">Chyka PA, Seger D, Krenzelok EP, Vale JA (2005). "Position paper: Single-dose activated charcoal". Clin Toxicol (Phila) 43 (2): 61–87. PMID 15822758. </ref> The major physiological antidote is Atropine, which is used to treat bradycardia. Other drugs used for ventricular arrhythmia include Lidocaine, Amiodarone, Bretylium, Flecainide, Procainamide, and Mexiletine. Cardiopulmonary bypass is used if symptoms are refractory to treatment with these drugs.<ref name="Chan" /> Successful use of charcoal Hemoperfusion has been claimed in patients with severe aconite poisoning.<ref name="Lin2004">Lin CC, Chan TY, Deng JF (May 2004). "Clinical features and management of herb-induced aconitine poisoning". Ann Emerg Med 43 (5): 574–9. doi:10.1016/j.annemergmed.2003.10.046. PMID 15111916. </ref>
Poisoning may also occur following picking the leaves without wearing gloves; the aconitine toxin is absorbed easily through the skin. From practical experience, the sap oozing from eleven picked leaves will cause cardiac symptoms for a couple of hours. In this event, there will be no gastrointestinal effects. Tingling will start at the point of absorption and extend up the arm to the shoulder, after which the heart will start to be affected. The tingling will be followed by unpleasant numbness. Treatment is similar to poisoning caused by oral ingestion.
Aconitine is a potent neurotoxin that blocks Tetrodotoxin-sensitive sodium channels. Pretreatment with Barakol 10 mg/kg IV reduces the incidence of aconitine-induced ventricular fibrillation and ventricular Tachycardia, as well as mortality. Five μg/kg IV of tetrodotoxin has the same effect. The protective effects of barakol are probably due to the prevention of intracellular sodium ion accumulation.
In January 2009, the British 'Curry Killer' Lakhvir Singh, killed her lover Lakhvinder Cheema with a curry dish laced with Indian Aconite. On 11 February 2010 she was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum term of 23 years for the murder. <ref>Template:Cite news</ref>
Both Chinese medicine and Ayurveda have methods of processing aconite to reduce its toxicity. In Chinese medicine, the traditional Pao zhi or preparation of aconite is to steam it with Ginger in a fairly elaborate procedure. Due to the variable levels of toxicity in any given sample of the dried herb, there are still issues with using it. Most but not all cases of aconite toxicity in Taiwan were due to the consumption of unprocessed aconite.<ref> Tilotson, Alan,Safety and Regulation</ref><ref>Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica, Third Edition by Dan Bensky, Steven Clavey, Erich Stoger, and Andrew Gamble (Hardcover - Sep 2004)</ref>
According to an article by the Indian scientists Thorat and Dahanukar, "Crude aconite is an extremely lethal substance. However, the science of Ayurveda looks upon aconite as a therapeutic entity. Crude aconite is always processed i.e. it undergoes 'samskaras' before being utilized in the Ayurvedic formulations. This study was undertaken in mice, to ascertain whether 'processed' aconite is less toxic as compared to the crude or unprocessed one. It was seen that crude aconite was significantly toxic to mice (100% mortality at a dose of 2.6 mg/mouse) whereas the fully processed aconite was absolutely non-toxic (no mortality at a dose even 8 times as high as that of crude aconite). Further, all the steps in the processing were essential for complete detoxification" <ref>Thorat S,Dahanukar S. Can We Dispense With Ayurvedic Samskaras? J Postgrad Med. 1991 Jul;37(3):157-9., 1991)</ref>
Aconitum features in literature in a number of instances:
- Wolfsbane has been ascribed with supernatural powers in the mythology relating to werewolves and other lycanthropes, either to repel them, relating to aconite's use in poisoning wolves and other animals, or in some way induce their lycanthropic condition, as aconite was often an important ingredient in witches' magic ointments. In folklore, aconite was also said to make a person into a werewolf if it is worn, smelled, or eaten. They are also said to kill werewolves if they wear, smell, or eat aconite. Other accounts claim Wolfsbane is used as a brew to prolong the lycanthropic condition in the event a werewolf became under the full moon's influence.
- In Greek mythology, Medea attempted to poison Theseus with a cup of wine poisoned with wolfsbane. However Aegeus, his father, interceded when he discerned his identity.<ref name="Graves333">Graves, R (1955). "Theseus and Medea". Greek Myths. London: Penguin. pp. 332–336. ISBN 0-14-001026-2. </ref>
- In an episode of Home Improvement wolfsbane is given to Tim by Wilson to help him ward off the bad luck he has been experiencing as a presumed result of throwing out a chain letter.
- In the book Airman by Eoin Colfer, Marshall Hugo Bonvilain invites Conor's family to his tower and poisons the wine with wolfsbane which they don't drink.
- Shakespeare, in Henry IV Part II Act 4 Scene 4 refers to aconite, alongside rash gunpowder, working as strongly as the "venom of suggestion" to break up close relationships (cf Iago's role in Othello).
No, no, go not to Lethe, neither twist Wolf's bane, tight-rooted, for its poisonous wine Nor suffer thy pale forehead to be kissed By nightshade, ruby grape of Proserpine…
- Aconitum plays a major role in the story "The Cardinal Napellus" by Gustav Meyrink. It is identified with religious beliefs and connected to the idea of fate.
- Wolfsbane is mentioned in one of the verses of the Wiccan Rede:
Widdershins go when the Moon doth wane, An’ the Werewolf howls by the dread Wolfsbane.
- A gypsy poem was written for the Lon Chaney, Jr. series of werewolf movies; it has been quoted in other werewolf movies as well:
Even those who are pure of heart, and say their prayers at night, can become a wolf, when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.
- In the third book of the Brother Cadfael series, Monk's Hood, the herbalist Cadfael uses aconite as an ingredient in a liniment, which is later stolen and used to poison a victim. It is occasionally referenced in other situations as well.
- In Children of the Vampire, the second book in Jeanne Kalogridis vampire series, wolfsbane is named as an ingredient for a very powerful elixir designed to transform one into the form of a wolf (or perhaps other creatures as well) so as to commence training to become a vampire-killer.
- Wolfsbane in the Harry Potter series is a toxic plant that can be used as an ingredient in the Wolfsbane Potion, a potion werewolves use to maintain their rationality and conscience when transformed into a wolf. During the events of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the werewolf Remus Lupin forgets to take his dose of Wolfsbane Potion that Severus Snape prepared for him and ends up turning into a werewolf during the full moon. In his first potions class, Harry Potter is mocked by Severus Snape for not knowing that Monkshood, Wolfsbane, and Aconite are the same plant, in an attempt to humiliate him.
- An overdose of aconite was the method in which Rudolph Bloom, father of Leopold Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses, committed suicide.
Rudolph Bloom died... in consequence of an overdose of monkshood (aconite) self-administered in the form of a neuralgic liniment...
- In Brian Jacques's Redwall book Outcast of Redwall, Veil the ferret uses wolfsbane to poison one of the residents of Redwall Abbey.
- Aconite is also used as a poison in Midsomer Murders, in the episode "Garden of Death".
- In the 1931 film Dracula, Wolfsbane is used to keep Dracula out of households.
- A controversial herbal remedy for cancer containing aconite was used by the character Kostoglotov in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's novel Cancer Ward.
- The character William Walker, otherwise known as the Wolf Lord, is assassinated, rather appropriately, with aconite in On the Oceans of Eternity, the third book in the Nantucket series by S. M. Stirling.
- In Alex Kava's A Necessary Evil, character Father Michael Keller is poisoned by monkshood in his tea.
- In the 1998 play by Craig Lucas, The Dying Gaul, the main character uses the root of a monkshood plant to poison his lover's wife.
- In the British TV series Heartbeat, in the first episode of series 8 (1998), the poisonings are eventually found to be due to common monkshood root mistaken for horseradish and made into sauce in the pub.
- It is the namesake for the British alternative metal band Aconite Thrill.
- In the manga and anime Reborn! one of the villains is named Torikabuto, which is Japanese for wolfsbane. As a reference to the many names of the wolfsbane such as monkshood and Devil's helmet, Torikabuto is constantly wearing a black hood over his head and a demonic mask on his face.
- Wolfsbane is also supposed to be highly deadly towards Vampires.
- In the video game The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, Monkshood can be harvested and used to make potions.
- Hinted at in Stephen King´s Cycle of the Werewolf, in which Reverend Lowe at some point remembers his Lycanthropy might have started after he picked up some strange flowers in a graveyard.
- While legend suggests that Cleopatra, the last queen of Egypt was killed by a snake bite, many historians actually believe that she committed suicide by swallowing a lethal drug cocktail made of opium, aconitum (Wolfsbane) and hemlock, a highly poisonous plant from the parsley family.
- In the hit CW TV series The Vampire Diaries, Aconitum Vulperia (Wolfsbane) is highly toxic to werewolves, similar to the poisonous effects that Vervain has on vampires.
- Ino Yamanaka, a character in the Anime Naruto, uses Wolfsbane as a Weapon, due to its Poisonous qualities.
- In the video game Assassins Creed Brotherhood, Aconite is a quest item required to gain access to fast poison.
- Monkshood was used to poison a teenager in episode 3 ("Sympathy for the Devil") of the TV series Rizzoli & Isles
- In the new MTV show Teen Wolf, Wolfsbane is used to hide the true identity of the human side in a werewolf. Also a rare form of Monkshood called Nordic Blue Monkshood is extremely toxic to werewolves in the sense that exposure to the plant will kill them overtime, and force transformations.
Unidentified Aconitum (possibly Aconitum carmichaelii)
Trailing White Monkshood (Aconitum reclinatum)
Southern Blue Monkshood (Aconitum uncinatum)
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