Aconite is a plant that’s native to many areas of Europe and Asia. Its stalks are loaded with purple flowers, so it’s an appealing perennial plant for ornamental gardens.
Each blossom is shaped like the hood of a medieval monk. This has inspired many of its other names, like monkshood, friar’s cap, and auld wife’s huid.
Aconite is also called wolf’s bane. Historically, shepherds used raw meat laced with aconite to bait and kill wolves.
Although there are many varieties of the plant, all of them are thought to be toxic. But some people believe that aconite has healing powers.
Aconite has long been associated with magic and witchcraft. Harry Potter used it in potions. And in the past it was said to send witches soaring on their broomsticks.
Aconite also has a long history as a poison. Rumor has it that the Roman emperor Claudius was murdered with aconite.
As recently as 2010, a British woman was convicted of poisoning someone with a spicy aconite curry.
Eating too much of it can cause serious problems with your cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Despite its toxic properties, aconite has been used in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) for centuries. It was also used in mainstream Western medicine until the middle of the 20th century.
Today it can still be purchased at many health food stores as a homeopathic remedy. You can also find it at many pharmacies.
Some people believe it can help treat a wide variety of conditions, from colds to heart disease. However, depending on the dosage and how it’s processed, taking aconite can cause serious risks.
Aconite products are widely available online and in brick-and-mortar stores. You can purchase aconite root that’s been dried and ground as a powder. You can also find it in pellets, tablets, capsules, and liquid formulas.
Many aconite products provide dosage instructions for adults and children. In fact, at least one product is marketed specifically for children.
It’s marketed as a “kiddie calmer” to help relieve shyness, nervousness, and worry.
As with many homeopathic products, claims about the healing power of aconite include a wide range of conditions.
For example, some people believe it can help clear up conditions like colds, fevers, or headaches.
Some people also use it to treat other conditions from asthma to rheumatism. And some think it can help reduce inflammation, as well as pain caused by teething.
According to a review article published in the , some studies suggest that compounds found in aconite may offer health benefits. But more research is needed to learn how the herb affects your body.
Aconite’s potential health benefits may be due to the alkaloids it contains. Alkaloids are potent compounds, mostly produced by plants.
The main alkaloid found in aconite is called aconitine. Other examples of alkaloids include caffeine, strychnine, and nicotine.
Many alkaloids do have medicinal properties. For example, some of them are used to treat or prevent migraines, muscle spasms, asthma, or motion sickness.
Some may also help ward off glaucoma, malaria, bronchitis, or even Alzheimer’s disease. On the other hand, alkaloids can also be very toxic.
Aconitine and other alkaloids found in aconite are highly toxic. Similar toxins are found in the venom of certain poisonous snakes.
Similar toxins are also found in arsenic, lead, ammonia, and the bacteria responsible for tetanus and botulism.
These alkaloids are classified as cardiotoxins and neurotoxins. They affect your cardiovascular and central nervous systems. They can interfere with essential communication between cells and cause serious health problems.
Soaking and boiling aconite helps to reduce its toxicity. But if you consume too much, or you use products that haven’t been processed properly, you can get aconite poisoning.
You can also absorb dangerous amounts of aconite through your skin or open wounds.
Aconite poisoning is life-threatening. It requires immediate medical attention.
Common symptoms of aconite poisoning include stomach pains, nausea, and vomiting. You may also experience a burning sensation in your mouth and tongue.
And you may have difficulty breathing and an irregular heartbeat. Some people also report a “creepy” sensation that feels like ants crawling over your body.
There are no known antidotes to aconite poisoning, but doctors can treat the symptoms.
If you have aconite poisoning, a review of research published in suggests that your doctor should closely monitor your vital signs.
They should pay close attention to your blood pressure and cardiac rhythm. And they may use medications to treat symptoms like low blood pressure, rapid heartbeat, or abnormal heart rhythms.
In some cases your doctor may recommend cardiopulmonary bypass surgery.
Never use aconite unless you’ve gotten the green light from your doctor. Aconite poisoning can be fatal. In most cases, you’re probably better off trying another treatment.