Aconite Napellus. Monkshood. Wolfsbane.

A tall upright plant with dark blue flowers, 4 – 5 feet tall. Growing in damp, covered parts in mountainous country in northern and mid Europe, notably Switzerland, Germany and Sweden. It is to be found in high mountains ‘where there is a lot of wind, storms and activity’.

Its sphere of action is in emergencies and acute diseases. Serous membrane and muscular tissues are markedly affected. It is a remedy for anxiety, fright and shock. Where there is fear, anxiety and anguish of mind and body. There is marked restlessness, both physical and mental. A major remedy in inflammation and fevers.

Complaints caused by exposure to dry, cold weather, winds, drafts of air, checked perspiration. Ailments of the immune system, especially if caused by checked sweat or by dry, cold air, storms or cold winds. Acute, sudden and violent illness with high fever or chills. Glands are painful, hot and swollen. Influenza and colds. Sudden and great sinking of strength.

Aconite is the first and main remedy in the minute dose in inflammation of the windpipe (croup, membranous laryngitis) in various kinds of inflammation of the throat and fauces, as also in the local acute inflammations of all other parts, particularly where there is in addition to thirst and quick pulse, there is an anxious impatience, an unappeasable mental agitation and agonizing tossing about. A state similar to those seen in persons who have had a fright combined with vexation.

Also, is a remedy for complaints from hot weather, especially summer diarrhoea. Localised blood congestions and inflammations. Tension of arteries, emotional and physical tension. Burning in internal parts, tingling, coldness and numbness. Neuritis with tingling. Does not want to be touched. Muscular rheumatism with high fever. Joint rheumatism, much fever, restlessness and anxiety. Swellings are red, hot (cf. Bell) or pale, shifting from one point to another.

Pre-eminent in acute inflammatory fevers After the first dose of Aconite sometimes an intermediate homoeopathic remedy is required for the morbid symptoms remaining after twelve of sixteen hours; but it is very rarely that a second dose of Aconite is needed after this intermediate remedy.

Aconite is ‘‘an indispensable accessory remedy in even the most obstinate chronic affections, when the system requires a diminution of the so-called ‘tension of the blood vessels’.’’

Botannical: Dark green glossy leaves deeply divided in a palmate manner. The rootstock of tapering form is dark brown externally, white internally; the younger roots being placed either side of the older one, are of a lighter colour. A cultivated plant, often found in gardens, it has in the past been mistaken for horse radish and produced fatal results, when in the winter months, when the leaves and flowers, so unmistakable, have withered away. Aconite Napellus is a highly poisonous plant and death would ensure if ingested.

Reports from poisoning accounts – the taste is bitter at first, but after a time numbness and tingling of the lips and tongue are perceived. The venom of Aconite seems to depend upon the presence of an alkaloid called Aconitinia, extremely poisonous.

From the Treasure of Botany: Ranunculaciae family. Habitat, the lower mountain slopes of the north eastern hemisphere. Himalaya through to Europe. It was very early introduced to England, being mentioned in all the English vocabularies of plants from the tenth century onwards and in early medicinal recipes.

A hardy perennial, with fleshy spindle shaped root pale when young subsequently acquiring a dark brown skin. The shape of the flower is especially designed to attract bees, especially the humble bee (bumble bee). The sepals are represented by two very curious nectaries within the hood, somewhat in the form of a hammer; the stamens are depressed in a bunch at the mouth of the flower. They are pendulous at first, but rise in succession and place their antlers forwards in such a way that a bee visiting the flower for nectar is dusted with pollen, which he then carries to the next flower he visits and thereby fertilises the undeveloped fruits, which are in a tuft in the centre of the stamens, each carpal containing a single seed.

In the Anglo-saxon vocabularies it is called ‘thiung’, which seems to have been a general name denoting a very poisonous plant. It was then called Aconite, the English form of its Greek and Latin name, later Wolfsbane, the direct translation of the Greek Lycotonum, derived from the idea that arrows tipped with the juice or baits anointed with it, would kill wolves. The species mentioned by Dioscorides seems to have been Aconitum Lycotonum. By the Middle Ages it had become Monkshood and Helmet flower from the curious shape of the upper sepal overtopping the rest of the flower. This was the ordinary name in Shakespeare’s day.

Herbal: Parts used: leaves, stems, flowering tops and roots. The leaves and flowering parts are used fresh and are cut when the flowers are just breaking into blossom and the leaves when in their best condition in June. The roots are collected after the stem dies down but before the bud which is to develop next year’s stem has begun to develop.

As this bud grows and develops a flowering stem, in the spring, some of the lateral buds develop into short shoots, each of which produces a long slender descending root crowned with a bud. These roots rapidly thicken, filled with the reserve material produced by the parent plant, the root of which then dies as the daughter root increases in size. Towards the autumn, the parent plant dies down and the daughter roots which have reached their maturity are now full of starch. If allowed to remain in the soil, the buds that crown the daughter roots now begin to grow, in the late winter, and this growth exhausts the strength of the root, and the proportion of starch and alkaloid it contains is lessened.

When harvested the roots are well washed in cold water and trimmed of all rootlets, then dried, initially in the open air, or placed on clean shelves in a warm place for about ten days, turning frequently. When somewhat shrunken, they must be finished more quickly by artificial heat in a well ventilated drying room. Drying in an even temperature will probably take a fortnight or more. It is not complete until the roots are dry and brittle, snapping when bent.

Chemical constituents of Aconite root contain 0.3 1 per cent alkaloids, consisting of Aconitine – crystalline, acrid and highly toxic – with the alkaloids Benzaconine (Picraconitine) and Aconine.

Medicinal actions and uses: Anodyne, diuretic and diaphoretic (promotes sweating).

Herbalists may consider the use of the tincture in facial neuralgia.

With poisonings from the plant material there a sensation of ants crawling over the body, nausea, irregular, weak pulse, skin cold and clammy, pale features, giddiness, staggering, mind remains clear.

Aconitine exists in all parts of the plant, and is a formidable and fast acting poison. One hundredth of a grain will act locally so as to produce a well marked sensation in any part of the body for a whole day. The juice accidentally applied to a fingertip affects the whole system, not only causing pain in the limbs, but a sense of suffocation and syncope.

Some species of Aconite were well known to the ancients as deadly poisons. It was said to be the invention of Hecate from the foam of Cerberus, and it was a species of Aconite that entered into the poison which the old men of the island of Ceos were condemned to drink when they became infirm and no longer of use to the State. Aconite is also supposed to have been the poison that formed the cup of Medea given to Theseus.

–       Information from ‘Matera Medica of Homoeopathic Medicines’ by Robin Murphy and from ‘A Modern Herbal’ by Mrs M. Grieve, Harcourt, Brace and Co. 1971.

Materia Medica Sources: Boericke. Clarke. Murphy.