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Herbs & Botanicals

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Aconite (fu zi)

What is aconite? What is it used for?

Aconite is an extremely powerful and potentially toxic herb. Native to Asia, it has been used for thousands of years by practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. The plant contains narrow, spike-shaped leaves with purple flowers. Some practitioners use dried roots and tubers for herbal remedies; homeopaths typically use the whole plant in their preparations.

In traditional Chinese medicine, aconite is considered an effective stimulant for the spleen and kidneys, and is a popular treatment for malaise, general weakness, poor circulation, cancer, and heart disease. Aconite is also occasionally used in very low doses by modern homeopathic practitioners as a treatment for colds, influenza, rheumatism and congestion. The German Commission E has recognized the effectiveness of aconite in treating neuralgia.

The main active ingredient in aconite is aconitine. Even in small amounts, aconitine can inhibit respiration and, in some cases, lead to respiratory failure. As a result, aconite is usually combined with other herbs to diminish its potentially toxic effects.

How much aconite should I take?

There are no generally accepted dosages for aconite. It is usually taken in conjunction with other herbs and botanicals. However, some practitioners employ an aconite lotion that contains 1.3% aconitine.

What forms of aconite are available?

Aconite is usually incorporated into other herbal preparations, most commonly as teas or infusions. Ointments, liniments and lotions containing aconite are also available.

What can happen if I take too much aconite? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Because of its toxic nature, aconite should only taken under the strict supervision of a qualified expert trained in its appropriate use. As little as two milligrams of aconitine taken internally may cause death. Possible side-effects include burning, numbness, cardiac arrythmia, dizziness, hypothermia, muscle spasms, nausea, vomiting, blurred or double vision, speech difficulties and difficulty breathing.

Aconite should never be taken while pregnant and should never be used on broken skin. If a skin reaction to aconite occurs, discontinue its use immediately.

References

  • Aconite. The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. 2001. Available online at www.bartleby.org.
  • Blumenthal M (ed.) The Complete German Commission E Monographs. Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998.
  • Culpeper N. Culpeper's Color Herbal. New York, NY: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 1983.
  • Fetrow C, Avila J. Professional's Handbook of Complementary and Alternative Medicines. Springhouse Corporation, Springhouse, PA, 1999.
  • Fleming T (ed). PDR for Herbal Medicines. Medical Economics Company, Inc., Montvale, NJ, 1998.

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