006. Aconitum Napellus. Common Wolf's-Bane, or Monk's Hood.
Synonyma. Aconitum, Pharm. Lond. & Edin. Stoerck tab. 3.
Aconitum caeruleum seu Napellus, Bauh. pin. 183.
Aconitum cause simplici, spica densa, petiolis unifloris, casside breviter mucronata, Hal. Stirp. Helv. No. 1197, vires autem, No. 1198.
Aconitum verus caeruleus, Gerard.
Aconitum, Spec. 1, Raii.
Napellus, Matth. Camerar. Dodon. &c.
Class Polyandria. Order Trigynia. L. Gen. Plant. 682.
Ess. Gen. Ch. Cal. o. Petala 5: supremo fornicato. Nectaria 2, pedunculata, recurva. Siliquae, 3 s. 5.
Spec. Char. A. foliorum laciniis linearibus superne latioribus linea exaratis.
The root is perennial, turnip-shaped, or more commonly fusiform; the stalk is simple, erect, strong, beset with many leaves, and grows from two to five feet high: the leaves are lobed, deeply laciniated, and stand alternately upon long footstalks, but the upper leaves are almost sessile, and the laciniae much broader than those towards the bottom of the stem; the superior pagina of the leaf is of a dark green colour, but the under pagina is whitish; the peduncles are generally unifloral, erect, and villous; the flowers terminate the stalk, are without calyces, and grow in a long racemus or spike; each flower consists of five petals, which include two nectaries, the uppermost petal is arched over the lateral ones, so as to appear helmet-shaped, or hooded; they are all of a purplish or deep violet colour: the pistilla, (according to Jacquin) are three, four, and sometimes five. The Aconitum is a native of the mountainous and woody parts of Germany, France, and Switzerland; but since the time of Gerard, it has been cultivated for ornament in most of the flower-gardens in this country.
The figure of this plant given by Stoerck, is supposed, by Haller and Bergius to be the Aconitum Cammarum of Linnaeus: Murray, however, is of a different opinion; and upon comparing Stoerck's Aconitum with the Cammarum and Napellus, as delineated by Jacquin, (Flor. Aust.) we have no hesitation in referring it to the latter. [In the Cammarum the top of the flower rises much higher, and forms a more acute angle; the flowers are of a fainter blue colour, and the racemus is always shorter than that of the Napellus.]
Every part of the fresh plant is strongly poisonous, but the root is unquestionably the most powerful, and when first chewed imparts a flight sense of acrimony, but afterwards, an insensibility, or stupor at the apex of the tongue, and a pungent heat of the lips, gums, palate, and fauces, are perceived, followed with a general tremor and sensation of chilliness. Though the plant loses much of its power by drying, yet Stoerck observes that, when powdered and put upon the tongue, it excites a durable sense of heat, and sharp wandering pains [Reinhold, however, describes the leaves of this plant, when dry, as almost insipid. Diss. de Aconit. Napello.], but without redness or inflammation. The juice applied to a wound, seemed to affect the whole nervous system; [The juice was applied to a wound of the finger, which not only produced pains in the hand and arm, but cardialgia, great anxiety, a sense of suffocation, syncope, &c. and the wounded part sphacelated before it came to suppuration. Rodder in Alberti Jurisp. Med. t. 6. p. 724.] even by keeping it long in the hand, or on the bosom, we are told unpleasant symptoms have been produced. [If this be admitted, it must be referred to a peculiar idiosyncrasy of the body rather than to the power of the plant. Murray, Apparat. Med. vol. 3. p. 12.] That the ancients considered the Aconitum to be the most destructive of vegetable productions, appears from their fanciful derivation of its origin: "ut ab Hecate inventum aut ex Cerberi spuma enatum pronunciarent;" and Ray says, "Napellus venenorum praesenta neorum facilè princeps." [Ray observes that the Napellus loses much of its virulency by being transplanted from the mountains into our gardens; and this observation has been confirmed by the experiment of D. Martinus Bernhardus a Berniz, in Ephem. Germ. ann. 2. Observ. 42, (Ray, Hist. Plant, p. 702.) and for farther confirmation see Pet. Joh. Faber in Pauth. l. 1. cap. 43.] The deleterious effects of this plant, like those of most vegetable poisons, are produced by its immediate action upon the nervous energy; for of the different animals which have been destroyed by it [The root of the Napellus is an immediate poison to almost all animals, but actual experiments with it have been made upon wolves, cats, dogs, mice, &c. See Wepser, Hist. de Cicut. p. 176. de Napello. Phil. Transact. vol. 27. p. 488. Sprogel Diss. Exper. circa venena, p. 6. Hillefeld, p. 23. Ehrhart, vide Reinhold, Diss. cit. Cows and Goats, by being forced to eat this plant, perished. Moraeus Fil. in K. Vet. Acad. Handl. 1745. p. 217.], we find but one instance, wherein upon dissection, marks of organic disease were discovered [This was a wolf, wherein marks of inflammation of the stomach were discovered. Wepser, l. c. p. 180.], and this, as well as those mentioned in our former number reflecting the Belladonna, we attribute to the action of secondary causes.
The fatal symptoms brought on by this poison, are thus stated by Haller: "Intus adsumtus Napellus vomitum movet, convulsiones, rigorem, verciginem, maniam, hypercatharses, sursum & deorsum erumpentes, tum ventris tumores, & alia gravissima symptomata, sudorem frigidum, asphyxiam." [N. 1198. l. c. These symptoms are collected from a number of fatal instances of its poisonous effects, some of which we shall mention. The root was given by way of experiment to four condemned criminals, two at Rome, in the year 1524, and two at Prague, in 1561, of whom two soon perished, the other two, with great difficulty, recovered. Matthiol. in Diofcorid. p. 768. It has frequently been eaten by mistake for other plants, and proved fatal. Willis de Anima brutor. p. 289. Dodon. Stirp. Pempt. L. 4. p. 442. Bacon, Philos. Trans. vol. 38. p. 284. And the following remarkable fact is said to have happened at Sweden:—A person having eaten some of the fresh leaves of the Napellus, became maniacal, and the surgeon who was called to his assistance declared, that the plant was not the cause of the disorder; and, to convince the company that it was perfectly innocent, he eat freely of its leaves; but he suffered by his temerity, for soon after he died in great agony. Moraeus, 1. c, 1739. p. 41.] Stoerck appears to be the first who gave the Wolf's-bane internally, as a medicine; and since his experiments were published, in 1762, it has been generally and often successfully employed in Germany, and the northern parts of Europe, particularly as a remedy for obstinate rheumatisms: and many cases are related where this disease was of several years duration, and had withstood the efficacy of other powerful medicines, as mercury, opium, antimony, cicuta, &c. yet, in a short time, were entirely cured by the Aconitum. [Stoerck libell. de stramon, &c. Contin. Exper. Libell. de Pulsatill. Nig. p. 58. Rosenstein, Hall Epist. vol. 5. p. 174. Collin Observ. pars. 2. Blom Vet. Acad. Handl. 1773. p. 258. Odhelius, ibid. 1776. p. 68. Hast, Med. Virkets tilstand, p. 307. Ribe, vide Reinhold Diss. p. 37. Comment, de rebus, vol. 2. p. 240. Diss. de usu salutari Extr. Aeon, in Arthritide pres. Böhmer Hal. 1768. a pag 10 ad 13. Aug. Phil. Gesner. Beobacht. a. d. Arzn. vol. 1. p. 196. Tode, Med. chir. Bib. vol. 2. P. 1. p. 120. Tritze Mediz. Annalen. vol. I. p. 327. Stöller, Beob. u. Erf. p. 140. Stoll Rat. Medend. P. 3. p. 167.] Instances are also given us of its good effects in gout, scrophulous swellings, venereal nodes, amaurosis, intermittent fevers, &c. [See the authors referred to above.] Bergius describes its Virtus to be pellens, sudorifera, diuretica, subvertiginosa; recens venenata: Usus, rheumatismus, arthritis, malum ischiadicum.
This plant has been generally prepared as an extract or inspissated juice, after the manner directed in the Edinburgh and many of the foreign pharmacopoeias, [Its efficacy is much diminished on being long kept.] and like all virulent medicines, it should be best administered in small doses. Stoerck recommends two grains of the extract to be rubbed into a powder, with two drams of sugar, and to begin with ten grains of this powder two or three times a day. We find however, that the extract is often given from one grain to ten for a dose,and Stoll, Schenckbecher, and others, increased this quantity very considerably. Instead of the extract, a tincture has been made of the dried leaves, macerated in six times their weight of spirits of wine, and forty drops given for a dose.