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 Aconitum (Monkshood, Wolfbane)

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PostSubject: Aconitum (Monkshood, Wolfbane)   Fri Mar 30, 2012 2:04 pm



Above Picture: Western Monkshood (Aconitum columbianum)

Introduction
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 buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).

The name comes from ἀκόνιτον meaning "without struggle". The english name "monkshood" comes from the fact that the flowers resemble a monks cowl. The european name Wolfsbane, comes from the belief that wolves would die from eating the plant, while foraging in the winter.


Habitat

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.

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 have pieces of the root where livestock might be poisoned.



Above Picture: Aconitum ferox

Poisonous Uses
The roots of Aconitum ferox supply the Nepalese poison called bikh, bish, or nabee. It contains large quantities of the alkaloid pseudaconitine (Nepaline), which is a deadly poison. Nepaline causes constant stimulation of the muscles, glands and central nervous system. 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.

Symptoms of Poisoning
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). 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, sinusbradycardia, 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

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.



Traditional and Medicinal Uses
Aconite has long been used in the traditional medicine of Asia. It is used in traditional Chinese medicine as a treatment for Yang deficiency, "coldness", and general debilitation. The herb is considered hot and toxic. It is prepared in extremely small doses.
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.

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.

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.

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 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 center 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 (victims are very aware of what is happening to them, thus an agonizing death).


Other Interesting Facts
In Greek mythology, Medea attempted to poison Theseus with a cup of wine poisoned with wolfsbane (Aconitum).

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.

Aconitum 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.


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, and hemlock, a highly poisonous plant from the parsley family.





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