The aconite is a shrub which sports purplish blue aconite flowers that bloom during the summer as well as during the fall and are generally shaped like a helmet. The form of the flowers is especially intended to draw as well as make use of the bees visiting them, particularly the humble bee. The sepals of aconite have a purple hue – the purple color particularly helps to attract the bees. In addition, the sepals have a fantastic shape and one of the sepals have the shape of a covering. On the other hand, the petals of aconite are simply embodied by the two extremely bizarre nectar-producing parts positioned inside the hood – rather in the shape of a hammer. Aconite flowers have copious stamens that are positioned in a depressed manner in the form of a bunch at the flower mouth. Initially, the stamens are drooping, but get up one after the other and position their anthers frontward in such a manner that any bee that visits the flower in quest of nectar is covered with pollen dust. Subsequently, the bees transport the anthers to the flower they visit next and, in this way, pollinate the immature fruits that are within a bunch at the center of the stamens. Every carpel of aconite encloses a solitary seed. This shrub has dark green shiny leaves, which are a lighter green color on their under surface. A perennial, the aconite is capable of growing anywhere from two feet to six feet in height. The thick tuberous roots support its stem.
Root, rhizome, stem, leaf, flower.
Aconite is found growing in rocky areas, and perhaps this is why this herb has been named after the term, ‘akone’, which means ‘cliffy’ or ‘rocky’. The ancient Greeks had an interesting story about the aconite: it was their belief that when the so-called gatekeeper of Hell, Cerberus was being dragged up by Hercules from the nether regions where he lived, he started foaming at the mouth, and when a few of these drops happened to drop on the aconite that was growing in the region, the shrub became poisonous! Theseus, the step-son of Medea, who was the priestess of Hecate, was supposedly poisoned using the aconite. The young prince, however, managed to survive, thus thwarting Medea’s plans for her own son to inherit her husband’s throne. The aconite also enjoys the dubious distinction of having been used by witches of yore, in potions that would create a real sensation of flight among its users. This was perhaps why this shrub was often one of the main ingredients in the reputed “flying ointments” of the past.
Aconite has been used for a great variety of purposes, primarily because of its ability to provide very quick relief for a number of ailments, chief among them being a pain, arthritis, fever, neuralgias, various kinds of inflammation, and skin problems. Aconite works within a few minutes, especially if this herb is taken orally. The versatile shrub’s analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties caused by the strong presence of alkaloids are legendary; aconite is used safely and popularly as an important ingredient in certain homeopathic remedies, like for example in cases of physical and psychological stress. The aconite is also used in cases of extreme stress or fear and the restlessness associated with it, like for example, a panic attack or palpitations or numbness of one’s limbs. These are usually displayed through anxiety and widely dilated pupils, where the person associates his fear and nervousness with a previous unrelated event. There have been cases reported where a woman who fears to die during childbirth has been suitably calmed by the aconite.
However, the root of aconite can be extremely dangerous; even a few drops of the root can lead to either paralysis of the cardiac muscles, or of the entire respiratory system. Germany’s Commission E, the German group of herbal remedy experts who assess and appraise plant and herbal remedies for their efficacy and safety, have deferred giving their approval on the aconite. The reason may be the plant’s poisonous nature, despite proof that the aconite has been widely used right from ancient times.
North America, Europe, Africa, and Asia have a widespread growth of aconite.
The shrub aconite has a preference for a soil that can somewhat retain moisture, for instance, a damp loam, and thrives best when it is grown in a shady location. Aconite is likely to grow opulently when it is grown in a damp, open wood and is also likely to yield high returns when a little more trouble is taken to get the soil free of weeds, retaining its dampness as well as prevent any type of digging.
While readying the bed to grow aconite, it is necessary to dig up the soil properly and pulverize it before the winter frosts – the burying in of decayed leaves or standard manure will prove to be useful.
Aconite can be propagated from its seeds, which need to be sown in March half-an-inch inside a cold frame. Alternately, aconite seeds may also be directly sown outdoors in April. However, it is important to exercise immense care to ensure that the appropriate type of seed is acquired since there are several assortments of aconite – as many as nearly 24 have been identified. Moreover, all varieties of aconite do not possess similar active therapeutic attributes. Normally, aconite plants take about two to three years from the date of sowing the seeds to blossom.
Aconite may also be propagated by means of root division usually done in autumn. The underground part of the aconite plants is unearthed when the stem had subsided and the smaller among the ‘daughter’ roots that have grown at the side of the older roots are chosen for the purpose of re-plantation either in December or in January to develop new stock. The little roots are planted approximately a foot away from each other on all sides. When propagated by root division, the tender shoots of aconite emerge over the soil in February. While aconite plants are recurrent or perennial in nature, every separate root survives for just one year and the plant continues to remain alive by means of its ‘daughter’ roots.
Aconite contains 0.3 – 2% terpenoid alkaloids, principally aconitine.
Aconite can be taken in certain prescribed and tested dosages: 1 – 2 minims for a child 5 to 10 years old; 2 – 5 minims for adults, three times daily.
People intending to take therapeutic preparations of aconite should be aware of the potential adverse effects of using this herb. Aconite has many species and all of them enclose the poison aconitine. While the herb is infused with this poison, the maximum amount of it is present in the roots. Consuming a leaf or nibbling a minute part of the aconite root will result in a lack of sensation as well as itchiness in the mouth more or less instantaneously. Hence, it is advisable that you keep children as well as pets away from this shrub. In addition, never grow aconite with any other herb that you may plant to take internally.
It may be noted that the entire aconite herb is extremely poisonous and it especially works on the nerve centers. Initially, the poison aconitine invigorates the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system and subsequently knocks out or paralyzes both. The additional symptoms of aconite poisoning may comprise vomiting, a burning feeling on the tongue, diarrhea and stomach pain. It has been documented that simply coming in contact with this herb has caused loss of sensation or numbness in a number of people.