Aconite: History, Medicinal Use, Cultivation and Toxicity

 



Aconite Napellus: The violet-blue, hooded flower of aconite holds absolute beauty' for the garden, but that hood shrouds a poison of great power as well.


Description: Aconite is a perennial herb with a smooth, round, leafy stem.

Plant height: 2-4 Ft

Locations: The mountains of France, Switzerland, and Germany; widely grown in Europe and the united states.

Cultivation Environment:
• Partial shade to full sun.
• Rich, deep, moist soil.
. Soil pH 5-6.
. Plant hardiness zones 3-8.


Flowers                            | Flowering: Late summer and autumn

Violet-blue (white and pale purple) petals: 5 sepals, the top one in the shape of a hat. 2 lateral sides. 2 lower, rectangular-oval, about 6 inches long in terminal racemes.


Fruit: 3 to 5 pod-like capsules.


Leaves: alternate, smooth, dark green at the top surface, light green at the bottom, with lobbied palmate, The leaves of the upper stem are 3-5 lobes, those of the lower stem are 5-7 lobes; the lobes are jagged.


History

Greek legend says aconite grew on the Aconitus hill, where Hercules fought with the three-headed dog Cerberus, who guarded Hades entrance, and from this raging dog's mouth, foam and saliva fell on aconite, giving this plant its deadly poison. A Greek goddess of sorcery, arts, and spells, Hecate, poisoned her father with aconite, and Medea is said to have killed Theseus with it. Aconite was known as the poison of love. Legend has it that women who have been fed aconite every-day since childhood will poison others through sexual interaction.

Outside of legend, men did find use for this plant as a poison, In ancient times, poisons made from aconite were given to the elderly men when they became ill and were no longer useful to the state on the island of Ceos" Kea island" in the Aegean Sea. Hunters made aconite-painted arrows and mixed them in bait to be used for hunting wolves; thus the common names of the plant were: wolfbane and wolf-bane. In Europe and Asia, soldiers dropped it into their enemy's water supply route.
 
Witches had an interesting use for this herb during the Middle Ages. They combined it in ointments with belladonna, which they rubbed on their bodies for flying. Both herbs are good "flying" herbs. The irregular cardiac action induced by aconite and the delirium produced by belladonna certainly produced a feeling of flying. Of course, with such a powerful ointment, the witches had to be very cautious, or they would fly forever. 

As these stories tell, aconite certainly produces a physiological effect on the body. Aconite, however, was not only used as a poison. As a medicinal herb, aconite was introduced to modern medicine in Vienna in 1763. It was added to the London Pharmacopoeia in 1788, as well as to the first U.S.Pharmacopoeiaa.


Uses

Aconite is still used medicinally by homeopaths and Chinese herbalists, prescribing insignificantly small doses. At best, this is difficult and dangerous work. Keep this plant at home in the garden.


Medicinal Uses

Aconite slows the heart, reduces blood pressure, causes sweating, and reduces inflammation. When applied locally, it is absorbed in the skin and produces a warm, tingling sensation followed by numbness. Aconite-containing liniments have been used to relieve rheumatic and neuralgic pain. Homeopaths use aconite in their remedies, and the Chinese make a drug from the roots of several species of this herb, but since the therapeutic dose is so close to the toxic dose, aconite has long since been removed from the US. Pharmacopeia and the British Pharmacopeia.


Ornamental

What gardener could resist this fascinating herb to plant? Its curiously shaped flowers, which in the Middle Ages earned its moniker monkshood, are pretty both in the garden and the flower arrangements. Aconite is a great addition to the perennial flower beds. Due to its height, it can be attractively set in a large group of flowers behind lower-growing plants. It blooms in slightly shady surroundings or in the direct sun in the late summer and fall., Keep your children away, if you add this plant to your garden!


Cultivation

Aconite can be grown from 0.5-inch deep seed sown in April. It will bloom in two or three years. Root division is the simplest and most practical form of spreading. Dig up the plant and separate and replant the "daughter roots" that have grown on the side of the old roots in the autumn of every third or fourth year. Plants should be placed about 18 inches apart. After the plants have been killed by frost, the tops of the aconite should be cut. In areas where winters are harsh, Cover the beds with leafy branches or some other loose, insulating material Aconite does not like disruption of its roots and should not be transplanted.


Toxicity

It should never be used for any kind of treatment due to the extreme toxicity of this herb. The whole plant, but especially the root, contains several toxic alkaloids. The most abundant alkaloid is aconitine, while others include peritonitis, aconites, benzylamine, and neopelline. These alkaloids stimulate the central and peripheral nerves first and then depress them. A dose of as little as 5 milliliters of aconite tincture may cause death. Cases of poisoning have been reported when the leaves are mistaken for wild parsley or roots for horseradish. Even when used externally, it can be absorbed in sufficient quantities to cause poisoning.


Pests and diseases

Aconite is vulnerable to crown rot, powdery mildew, moss, verticillium wilt, and cyclamen mite.

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