Aconitum Napellus. Monkshood.
Nat. Ord. — Ranunculaceae. Sex. Syst. — Polyandria Trigynia.
Leaves and Root.
Description. — This is a perennial herbaceous plant, also known by the name of Wolfsbane; it has a turnip-shaped or fusiform root, from three to six lines in diameter, and three or four inches long ; externally brownish, internally whitish and fleshy, and sending off many long, thick, fleshy fibers. When the plant has arrived at maturity, there are usually two roots united, the older of which is dark-brown, and supports the stem ; the younger is of a light yellowish-brown, and is destined to furnish the stem of the following year. The stems are simple, erect, round and smooth ; the leaves are alternate, petiolate, divided to the base into five wedge-shaped lobes, which are called trifid, deep green upon their upper surface, light green beneath, and smooth and shining on both sides. The flowers are of a dark violet-blue color, large, in a terminal raceme, short pedicels ; the raceme is simple and cylindrical. The petaloid sepals are five ; the upper being helmet-shaped and concealing the petals ; the lateral broad and rounded ; the lower oblong and deflected. The petals not more than two, supported on a peduncle or claw, and have a hooked spur, and a bifid and revolute lip. The stamens are filiform, converging, with whitish anthers. The ovaries are from three to five, smooth, with simple reflected stigmas. The capsules correspond in number with the ovaries, and contain many wrinkled and angular seeds.
History. — Monkshood or Aconite is a native of most parts of Europe, growing in mountain forests and plains, and is cultivated as an ornamental plant in the gardens of Europe and this country. It grows from two to six feet high, and bears a long, dense spike of beautiful, deep-blue flowers, which make their appearance in May and June. The root, which consists of numerous slender radicles, is the most powerful part of the plant, but every portion of it is possessed of highly deleterious properties. There are several varieties, but the A. Napellus and A. Paniculatum are the only officinal ones. The dried leaves and root retain their acridity and narcotic virtues; and the expressed juice possesses the properties of the plant. Its medicinal virtues are best extracted by alcohol, and the alcoholic extract is the most convenient and energetic preparation. It contains an alkaloidal principle, termed Aconita, or Aconitina, a black oily matter, albumen, muriate and sulphate of lime, starch, etc. The smell of the plant is feeble but nauseous, and its taste acrid and bitter, leaving in the mouth a sensation of heat and pungency, and a degree of numbness.
Properties and Uses. — Aconite is an energetic acro-narcotic poison in improper doses, occasioning symptoms of gastric irritation, a peculiar tingling and numbness of the mouth, followed by loss of sensation, and paralysis of the voluntary muscles, but without coma or convulsions. With these symptoms will be thirst, nausea, vomiting, purging, spasms of the stomach and intestines, headache, dimness of vision, the pupils being either dilated or contracted, excessive prostration, pallid countenance, cold extremities, very feeble pulse, and delirium. Death ensues from paralysis of the respiratory muscles. All the above effects are not experienced in every case, though several of them will always be present. On dissection, inflammation of the stomach and bowels is found, with engorgement of the brain and lungs. There is no antidote known for poisoning with monkshood, yet a timely and thorough evacuation of the stomach, with the internal and external use of stimulants, have restored persons in imminent danger to perfect health.
In maximum medicinal doses, it warms the stomach and general system, and sometimes occasions nausea, with tingling and numbness in the lips and fingers, debility of the muscles, force and frequency of pulse diminished, as well as a diminution of the frequency of respiration. Sometimes the tingling and numbness extend over the whole body, with headache, vertigo, neuralgic pains, and general prostration. It should never be given in sufficient quantity to produce these effects. Applied to the eye, Aconitum causes contraction of the pupil.
In anaemical headaches, and in all cases attended with a torpid or paralytic condition of the muscular system, its use is contra-indicated. It is a very useful antiphlogistic remedy, and possesses anodyne, sedative, diaphoretic and diuretic qualities. It is especially useful in febrile and inflammatory diseases, gout, rheumatism, epilepsy, and neuralgic affections. In scarlatina, inflammatory fever, acute rheumatism, pneumonia, peritonitis, gastritis, and many other acute disorders, it has been used with the most decided advantage. Its action is more especially displayed in the higher grades of fever and inflammation. The best preparation is the alcoholic extract, formed by evaporating a tincture made of a pound of aconite and a quart of alcohol. The dose is one-eighth of a grain. One part of the extract, with two of lard, forms an excellent ointment for painful affections. The powdered root or leaves may be given in one or two grain doses, gradually increased. The tincture, made by macerating one ounce of the powdered root with six ounces of alcohol, for two or three weeks, may be given in doses of eight or ten drops, three times a day, gradually increased, until its effects are obvious. Its continued use sometimes produces vomiting and diarrhea.
Off. Prep. — Extract. Aconiti Alcoholicum ; Tinctura Aconiti ; Emplastrum Extracti Aconiti Radicis.