Aconitum (//), also known as "the queen of poisons", 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, 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.
This plant[clarification needed] is used as a food plant by some Lepidoptera species including Dot Moth, The Engrailed, Mouse Moth, Wormwood Pug, and Yellow-tail. It is also the primary food source for 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.
Aconite has long been used in the traditional medicine of Asia (India, China). In Ayurveda, the herb is used to increase pitta (fire, bile) dosha[clarification needed] and to enhance penetration[clarification needed] 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. 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.) 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. 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.
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. 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.
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 normal, 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.
Activated Aconite is used as an herb in Chinese traditional medicine, including in a formula to treat Arthritis. It exhibits especially potent analgesic properties, according to a recent study conducted by researchers with the Department of Anesthesiology, Perioperative and Pain Medicine at Harvard Medical School. Their research reveals that one of the active ingredients in aconite–Bulleyaconitine A, or BLA– strongly reduces sodium channel currents to block overactive pain signals for prolonged periods of time. In China, BLA has been approved for the treatment of chronic pain and rheumatoid arthritis.
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.
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.
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"
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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 MacKay 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.
- 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)
- Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
- BBC - h2g2 - Classic Poisons
- Hay, R. (Consultant Editor) second edition 1978. Reader's Digest Encyclopedia of Garden Plants and Flowers. The Reader's Digest Association Limited.
- 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.
- 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.
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- 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.
- Jim English (2010). "Traditional Chinese Herbs for Arthritis". Nutrition Review 5 (2). Retrieved 2011-12-29.
- The Extra Pharmacopoeia Martindale. Vol. 1, 24th edition. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1958, page 38.
- Chan TY (April 2009). "Aconite poisoning". Clin Toxicol (Phila) 47 (4): 279–85. doi:10.1080/15563650902904407. PMID 19514874.
- 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.
-  Tilotson, Alan,Safety and Regulation
- Chinese Herbal Medicine: Materia Medica, Third Edition by Dan Bensky, Steven Clavey, Erich Stoger, and Andrew Gamble (Hardcover - Sep 2004)
- Thorat S,Dahanukar S. Can We Dispense With Ayurvedic Samskaras? J Postgrad Med. 1991 Jul;37(3):157-9., 1991)
- 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".
- Aconitum chinense on pfaf.org
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- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press
- James Grout: Aconite Poisoning, part of the Encyclopædia Romana
- Photographs of Aconite plants