Something that makes homeopathic medicine unusual is that certain plants can be utilized as both medicine and poison. One example is the plant called aconite, historically utilized to treat conditions such as colds and anxiety, but also to hunt and kill animals, and even prisoners, due to its highly toxic effects.
Aconite is the name for a group of plants that are native to Europe and used in homeopathic medicine. It’s believed that there are more than 250 species of flowering aconite plants in existence, which belong to the plant family Ranunculaceae (also called the buttercup family).
These plants are also referred to by several other names, including monkshood, wolf’s bane, friar’s cap and auld wife’s huid. Aconite has earned some of these nicknames due to the shape of its flowers, which look similar to the hoods that monks wear.
The flowers are a deep, dark purple or blue color and are described as “helmet-shaped.” Other names for this plant originated because of its historical use in bait used to kill wolves.
Are aconite and Aconitum Napellus the same? For the most part, yes.
Aconite describes the larger genus, while Aconitum napellus is the species name for the plant most often used medicinally. Today these plants grow in many parts of the world, including the United States, Canada, Asia, Africa and Europe.
Although some herbalists and practitioners of folklore medicine have long used this plant for its potentially healing properties, it’s also known to be highly poisonous. Ingestion of aconite, or direct skin contact with the plant, can cause serious side effects and even be lethal, according to the National Poison Control Center.
While research focused on its medicinal benefits has been somewhat limited, there’s a good deal of anecdotal evidence suggesting that this plant has certain therapeutic effects, when properly handled and processed.
Most of these effects are due to the presence of chemicals called alkaloids (especially aconitine), along with strychnine, nicotine, mesaconitine, hypaconitine and jesaconitine.
Although most of these benefits have not been proven, in the past medicinal aconite uses included:
As explained more below, it can also cause serious, even life-threatening side effects when consumed in lethal amounts.
It’s critical that aconite be properly soaking, boiled and processed before being consumed in order to reduce its poisonous effects. It should also be used in small amounts and kept away from unprotected skin or open wounds.
Aconite plants have been utilized in homeopathic, witchcraft and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years, including to make healing tonics and also poison that was given to animals. It stopped being used medicinally in the United States in the 20th century.
According to the British Homeopathic Association, homeopathic uses for this plant include:
Aconite products come in several forms, including powder, tablets/capsules, extracts and topical tinctures.
Most often the root of the plant — which is considered the most toxic part — is carefully dried and prepared before being used to make supplements.
Dosage recommendations vary depending on why the product is being used, as well as your body size.
A general recommendation is to consume 60 milligrams of dried aconite root per dose. Because the concentration of aconite varies depending on the specific product, always read dosage directions carefully.
What parts of the aconite plant are toxic? For example, can you touch aconite safely, as long as you avoid swallowing it?
A. napellus plants contain several highly toxic, poisonous compounds that can enter the body either through the mouth when swallowed or through the skin. Fresh aconite root (before being processed) poses the most risk for toxicity.
Low doses of only about two milligrams of pure aconite or one gram of the plant can be poisonous.
Poisoning can occur if you touch the plant’s leaves while not wearing gloves or another form of protection. Chemicals in the plant can be absorbed through the skin, which trigger tingling and numbness, followed by other symptoms as the poison spreads through the body.
Consuming or contacting aconite poison can cause symptoms including:
How fast does aconite kill? Within hours of consuming large amounts of aconite poison, serious reactions and even death are likely to occur.
Certain compounds in this plant negatively affect the cardiovascular system and respiratory system, which can be fatal. This is exactly why it was used in ancient times as a poison that could be spread onto spears and arrows and then used for hunting.
In severe cases of poisoning, aconite toxicity can lead to paralysis of the heart and respiratory system, causing suffocation and cardiac arrest.
The reason aconite consumption can be very dangerous is mostly because of the chemical aconitine, which is considered a potent neurotoxin and cardiotoxin when consumed in large amounts. It affects the way that sodium channels work and how cells communicate, causing changes in how the heart functions.
It’s not always possible to reverse the effects of aconite poisoning, but symptoms can often be controlled using medication and other interventions. Today, doctors typically treat toxicity due to consumption of aconite poison in the following ways:
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