Scientific Name(s): Aconitum carmichaelii Debeaux, Aconitum kusnezoffii Rchb., Aconitum napellus L.
Common Name(s): Aconite, Aconite tuber, Blue rocket, Bushi, Caowu, Chuanwu, Devil’s helmet, Friar’s cap, Futzu, Helmet flower, Leopard’s bane, Monkshood, Soldier’s cap, Wolfsbane, Wutou
Aconite extracts have been used homeopathically in Europe and Asia (orally and externally), but rarely in the United States. Use is not recommended because of its toxicity.
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.
Contraindications have not been identified.
Documented adverse effects. In addition to oral administration, external application is reported to cause toxic symptoms. Avoid use.
None well documented.
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.
Aconitine is an alkaloid derived from various species of Aconitum. At least 350 species exist throughout the world; about 170 species exist in China Fatovich 1992 and more than 100 species are found throughout the temperate zones of the United States and Canada. The plants are also found throughout many parts of Asia, Africa, and Europe. Lampe 1985 A. napellus is the most common species in Europe, and has been naturalized in the eastern United States; A. carmichaelii and A. kusnezoffii are the most common species used in traditional Chinese medicine. Aconitum species are erect perennial plants growing to a height of 0.6 to 1.5 m (2 to 6 feet). In general, they resemble delphiniums. The characteristic helmet-shaped blue or purple flowers grow in a raceme at the top of the stalk in summer or fall. Occasionally, the flowers may be white, pink, peach, or yellow. The seed pods contain numerous tiny seeds. Lampe 1985
Various species of Aconitum have been used for centuries both as poisons and medicines. Some are still being used in traditional medicines of India, China, and Japan. Pullela 2008 The root is the most toxic, although all parts of the plant are considered to be toxic. The toxicity of the extracts follow the same order as the alkaloid content: roots, flowers, leaves, and stems. Fatovich 1992
Extracts of the Aconitum species have been used orally in traditional medicine to reduce fever associated with colds, pneumonia, laryngitis, croup, and asthma; and for their analgesic, anti-inflammatory, hypotensive, diuretic, diaphoretic (cause sweating), cardiac depressant (slow heart rate), and sedative properties. Murayama 1991 , Spoerke 1980 In traditional Asian medicine, root extracts are typically mixed with other ingredients, such as 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 counter irritant liniment for neuralgia, rheumatism, and sciatica. Fatovich 1992
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. Boericke 2009
Alkaloids account for up to 1.5% of the dry weight of Aconitum plant species. A wide variety of alkaloids have been isolated from the various species of aconite, including the major active alkaloid aconitine, as well as mesaconitine, hypaconitine, jesaconitine, napelline, sinomontanitines, lappaconitine, ranaconitine, and others. Fu 1997 , Fu 2006 , Murayama 1991 , Murayama 1980 , Tai 1992 , Wang 2001 Other alkaloids may be produced by processing (eg, pyro-type aconitine alkaloids by heat Murayama 1991 or benzylaconines or aconines by hydrolysis). Aconitine and its congeners are considerably more toxic than aconine and related alkaloids. Lin 2004
Uses and Pharmacology
Because aconite is highly toxic, its use is not recommended. Raw aconite products are extremely toxic; their alkaloids have a narrow therapeutic index and the alkaloid type and amount vary with species, place of harvest, and adequacy of processing. Processing may reduce alkaloid content and/or alter alkaloid composition, thus reducing potency; however, poisoning may still occur after the consumption of processed aconite root. Lin 2004
The following pharmacological effects of Aconitum alkaloid have been described: analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-rheumatic activity Feng 2003 , Hikino 1980 ; positive inotropic effects Honejäger 1983 ; and regulation of neurological disorders. Feng 2003 , Herzog 1964 However, only limited studies are available, and most were performed in China and Japan.
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