Aconitum (//), also known as aconite, monkshood, wolf's bane, 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 family Ranunculaceae. These herbaceous perennial plants are chiefly native to the mountainous parts of the northern hemisphere, growing in the moisture-retentive but well-draining soils of mountain meadows. Most species are extremely poisonous  and must be dealt with carefully.
The dark green leaves of Aconitum species 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 (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. The two upper petals are large and 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.
Aconitum species have been recorded as food plant of the caterpillars of several moths. The Yellow Tiger Moth Arctia flavia, and the Purple-shaded Gem Euchalcia variabilis are at home on A. vulparia. The Engrailed Ectropis crepuscularia, Yellow-tail Euproctis similis, Mouse Moth Amphipyra tragopoginis, Pease Blossom Periphanes delphinii, and Mniotype bathensis, have been observed feeding on A. napellus. The Purple-lined Sallow Pyrrhia exprimens, and Blepharita amica were found eating from A. septentrionale. The Dot Moth Melanchra persicariae occurs both on A. septentrionale and A. intermedium. The Golden Plusia Polychrysia moneta is hosted by A. vulparia, A. napellus, A. septentrionale and A. intermedium. Other moths associated with Aconitum species include the Wormwood Pug Eupithecia absinthiata, Satyr Pug E. satyrata, Aterpia charpentierana and A. corticana. It is also the primary food source for the Old World bumblebee Bombus consobrinus.
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. The Chinese also used Aconitum poisons both for hunting and for warfare. Aconitum poisons were used by the Aleuts of Alaska's Aleutian Islands for hunting whales. Usually, one man in a kayak armed with a poison-tipped lance would hunt the whale, paralyzing it with the poison and causing it to drown.
Several species of Aconitum are cultivated in gardens, having either blue or yellow flowers. They thrive in 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 hybrid cultivar A. × cammarum 'Bicolor' has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.
Marked symptoms may appear almost immediately, usually not later than one hour, and "with large doses death is almost instantaneous." Death usually occurs within two to six hours in fatal poisoning (20 to 40 mL of tincture may prove fatal). The initial signs are gastrointestinal including nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. This 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, sinus bradycardia, 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. 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 one hour of ingestion. 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. Successful use of charcoal hemoperfusion has been claimed in patients with severe aconite poisoning.
Poisoning may also occur following picking the leaves without wearing gloves; the aconitine toxin is absorbed easily through the skin. 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 opens tetrodotoxin sensitive sodium channels. It increases influx of sodium through these channels and delays repolarization, thus increasing excitability and promoting ventricular dysrhythmias.
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.
Aconite has long been used in traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda (Hindu traditional medicine). 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.
Aconitum features in literature and pop culture in a number of instances:
- 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.
- 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.
- The kyōgen (traditional Japanese comedy) play Bushi (附子?, "Dried aconite root"), which is well-known and frequently taught in Japan, is centered around aconite.
- Wolfsbane is mentioned in one of the verses of the Wiccan Rede.
- The 1941 film The Wolf Man suggests people can become werewolves when Wolfbane blooms.
- In The Vampire Diaries, wolfsbane is the counterpart of vervain, which affects vampires, to debilitate werewolves and hybrids.
- In the television show Merlin the lead character Merlin, attempts to poison Arthur with Aconite while under a spell.
- Wolfsbane in the Harry Potter series of Fantasy novels 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.
- In the 1931 classic horror film, "Dracula" starring Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula and Helen Chandler as Mina Seward, reference is made in regards to wolfbane (aconitum). Towards the end of the film, "Van Helsing holds up a sprig of wolfbane". Van Helsing educates the nurse protecting Mina from Count Dracula to place sprigs of wolfbane around Mina's neck for protection. Furthermore, he instructs that wolfane is a plant that grows in central Europe. There the natives use it to protect themselves against vampires. As long as the wolfbane is present in Mina's bedroom, she will be safe from Count Dracula. During the night, Count Dracula desires to visit Mina. He appears outside her window in the form of a flying bat. He causes the nurse to become drowsy and when she awakes from his spell, she removes the sprigs of wolfbane placing it in a hallway chest of drawers. With the removal of the wolfbane from Mina's room, Count Dracula mysteriously appears and transport Mina to the dungeon of the castle.
- Monkshood is the poison used by the murderer in the third of the Cadfael Chronicles, Monk's Hood by Ellis Peters, published in 1980 and set in 1138 in Shrewsbury.
- An overdose of aconite was the method in which Rudolph Bloom, father of Leopold Bloom in James Joyce's Ulysses, committed suicide.
- Wolf's bane is used as an analogy for the power of divine communion in Liber 65 1:13-16, one of Aleister Crowley's Holy Books of Thelema:
- In the MTV series Teen Wolf, wolfsbane plays a prominent, reoccurring role, although portrayed a lot less poisonous to humans.
- In the NBC series Grimm, wolfsbane is rubbed on the person's skin to prevent a Blutbad (a wolf-like Wesen, or creature that a Grimm can differentiate from normal human beings) from detecting their scent.
- In the TV series Dexter (Season 7), the character Hannah McKay uses aconite to poison some of her victims.
- In the hit manga and anime series, Naruto, one of the main antagonists, Kabuto Yakushi, is named after the Japanese name for this plant, referring to the fact that he is a ninja with prodigious medicinal skills.
- In the manga and anime series, Katekyo Hitman Reborn, one of the main antagonists, Torikabuto, is named after the Japanese name for this plant.
- In the television series Midsomer Murders, season 4, episode 1 ("Garden of Death"), aconite is used as a murder weapon, mixed into fettucine with pesto to mask the taste.
- In Dae Chang Geum, Choi put wolfsbane in the previous Queen's food.
- In Episode 9 of the TV Series American Horror Story: Coven, the resurrected Myrtle Snow poisons former fellow Witches council members with Monkshood laced Melonballs at a private dinner party hosted by Snow herself, Paralyzing them before gouging out their eyes (one from each) with a melon baller.
- In the last of the three alternate history novels of the Nantucket series by S. M. Stirling, "On the Oceans of Eternity", the renegade Coastguard Lieutenant turned psychopathic warlord along with most of his high command, is poisoned with aconite laced food by his own chief of internal security.
Genetic analysis suggests that Aconitum as it was delineated before the 21st century is nested within Delphinium sensu lato, that also includes Aconitella, Consolida, Delphinium staphisagria, D. requini and D. pictum. Further genetic analysis has shown that the only species of the subgenus "Aconitum (Gymnaconitum)", "A. gymnandrum", is sister to the group that consists of Delphinium (Delphinium), Delphinium (Delphinastrum), and "Consolida" plus "Aconitella". In order to make Aconitum monophyletic, "A. gymnandrum" has now been reassigned to a new genus, Gymnaconitum. In order to make Delphinium monophyletic, the new genus Staphisagria was erected containing S. staphisagria, S. requini and S. pictum.
- Aconitum × austriacum
- Aconitum × cammarum
- Aconitum × hebegynum
- Aconitum × oenipontanum (A. variegatum ssp. variegatum × ssp. paniculatum)
- Aconitum × pilosiusculum
- Aconitum × platanifolium (A. lycoctonum ssp. neapolitanum × ssp. vulparia)
- Aconitum × zahlbruckneri (A. napellus ssp. vulgare × A. variegatum ssp. variegatum)
- Jabbour, Florian; Renner, Susanne S. (2012). "A phylogeny of Delphinieae (Ranunculaceae) shows that Aconitum is nested within Delphinium and that Late Miocene transition to long life cycles in the Himalayas and Southwest China coincide with bursts in diversification". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution 62: 928–942. doi:10.1016/j.ympwv.2011.12.005.
- Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
- One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Aconite". Encyclopædia Britannica 1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 151–152.
- Hay, R. (Consultant Editor) second edition 1978. Reader's Digest Encyclopedia of Garden Plants and Flowers. The Reader's Digest Association Limited.
- Bellmann, Heiko (2003). Der neue Kosmos Schmetterlingsführer. Stuttgard: Franckh-Kosmos Verlags GmbH.
- -. "Aconitum". Natural History Museum.
- Peissel, Michel. 1984. The Ants’ Gold. The Discovery of the Greek El Dorado in the Himalayas. London, Harvill Press, pp. 99-100.
- 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.
- 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.
- "RHS Plant Selector - Aconitum × cammarum 'Bicolor'". Retrieved 19 July 2013.
- The Extra Pharmacopoeia Martindale. Vol. 1, 24th edition. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1958, page 38.
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- Chyka PA, Seger D, Krenzelok EP, Vale JA (2005). "Position paper: Single-dose activated charcoal". Clin Toxicol (Phila) 43 (2): 61–87. PMID 15822758.
- 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.
- "Poisonous plant blamed in Nfld. actor's death". CTV.ca. 2004-08-07.
- "Curry poison killer Lakhvir Singh jailed for life". BBC. 2010-02-11.
- Graves, R (1955). "Theseus and Medea". Greek Myths. London: Penguin. pp. 332–336. ISBN 0-14-001026-2.
- Kuehl, BJ. "Count Dracula Original Movie Script". http://www.script-o-rama.com/oldindex.shtml. Retrieved 7 October 2013.
- ""Midsomer Murders" Garden of Death (2000), IMDB.com".
- Wang, Wei; Liu, Yang; Yu, Sheng-Xiang; Gai, Tian-Gang; Chen, Zhi-Duan (2013). "Gymnaconitum, a new genus of Ranunculaceae endemic to the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau". Taxon 62 (4): 713–722. doi:10.12705/624.10.
- Aconitum chinense on pfaf.org
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