The tuberous roots of Aconitum Fischeri, Reichenbach.
COMMON NAME.—American aconite.
ILLUSTRATION.—Lloyd's Drugs and Medicines of North America, Pl. xvii.
Botanical Source and History.—Though said to be the most active and poisonous of the species furnishing Japanese aconite root (Geerts, 1880), on account of its abundance in America and its likelihood of some day being the source of aconite for use in this country, we have taken the liberty to name this plant the American aconite.
Aconitum Fischeri, Reichenbach, is found in the Rocky Mountain region of the United States; also in other sections of the world. The plant is particularly mentioned here on account of the fact that its chemical properties are similar to those of aconite, and Prof. J. U. Lloyd, who has made an exhaustive study of the plant, prophesies that it may, at some future date, be an important source of aconite. In view of this fact, we extract from Drugs and Medicines of North America, by J. U. and C. G. Lloyd, a full botanical description of the plant: "This plant is quite common along the banks of streams in the mountains of the Western States. It is generally found near the tops of mountains and in mossy and boggy places. It usually grows near the water or in it, but never where the water is not fresh. It grows at an altitude of from 7,000 to 11,000 feet above sea level. The stem is erect and about 3 or 4 feet high, although in some favored situations it attains a height of 10 feet. The stem is smooth, except on the upper flowering portion, which is covered with a short pubescence. The leaves are orbicular in outline, and deeply three to five-lobed; the segments are acute, and coarsely and sharply-toothed. The leaf stalks are 2 to 6 inches long. The flowers appear in August or September, and are borne in a terminal loose raceme. They have the usual odd aconite shape, and can be recognized at once. They are usually of a deep-blue color, but vary to nearly white in some instances. Sometimes plants are found with bronzed flowers"—(Drugs and Medicines of North America). It is an extremely variable plant, having been found in several forms.
Description.—The root of Aconitum Fischeri is described by the authors of Drugs and Medicines of North America as follows: "Our engraving (Fig. 5) represents the average size of the roots obtained by us. It will be observed that they are cylindrical and taper at the lower extremity. They are, as a rule, of greatest diameter about one-fourth the distance below the top, approaching, by a graceful curve, the constriction that separates the stalk from the root. The parent root produces each season a small tuberous root (sometimes more) at the base of the stalk, which develops and increases during the season until it is of full size; then the stalk dies, the mother root shrinks and decays, the young root forms a terminal bud in anticipation of the coming season, and also begins to send out the new root. Our engraving exhibits these several phases, the old, contorted, shriveled root being upon the right; the succulent, plump, young root, fully developed, in the center, and with its terminal bud; the new root for next season upon the left"—(Drugs and Medicines of North America). The root closely resembles the aconite root of commerce, develops in the same manner, is bitter to the taste, and has the peculiar benumbing effect upon the tongue which is possessed by true aconite.
Chemical Composition.—Prof. F. B. Power, at the request of Prof. J. U. Lloyd, has investigated the chemical properties of this plant, though owing to the lack of material at the time was unable to state definitely what the constituents were. He established conclusively, however, that the drug contained an alkaloid or alkaloids. Prof. Lloyd states, basing his views on the physiological investigation, of Prof. Roberts Bartholow, undertaken at Prof. Lloyd's request, that the drug undoubtedly contains aconitine, associated with other proximate principles (see Drugs and Medicines of North America, p. 228). Paul and Kingzett have obtained from it an alkaloid, which has been named japaconitine (C66H88N2O21), a principle said by F. Mandelin (Arch. der Pharm., 1885) to be identical with benzoylaconine. It has a close resemblance to Wright's aconitine. By saponification, it is resolved into japaconine (C26H41NO10) and benzoic acid.
Action and Medical Uses.—American aconite has not been used to any extent in medicine, but in view of the fact that its constituents are probably similar to those of aconite, the drug should be studied to determine its action and therapeutical value.
Related Species.—Aconitum uncinatum, Linné, and Aconitum reclinatum, Gray, are also found in the Western States, but are unimportant. The last has not been chemically examined, and is probably inert; the former has proved to be practically inert as a medicine. V. Coblentz, at the request of Prof. Lloyd, examined it and found in it a glucosid, and a bitter, non-crystalline body of an alkaloidal character. Climate probably modifies the action of the aconites, as this species, in India, is poisonous and furnishes a portion of Bish.