Warning: ‘herbal valium’ aconite is dangerous for your heart

10 Oct

woman field offscreen green

This is a classic case where natural does not mean safe. Aconite (also known as aconitum, monkshood or wolfbane) is popularly known as ‘herbal valium’ for its ability to slow down the heart rate. Although the effectiveness of this ancient herb to treat some ailments isn’t disputed, the effectiveness level is so close to fatal toxicity that last week, according to Medical News Today, a U.S. government watchdog agency warned consumers of the cardiovascular dangers of taking any herbal medicines containing aconite.  All 109 species and seven hybrids of aconitum contain the alkaloids aconitine, aconine, ephedrine, and sparteine that may be toxic to the heart. There is no antidote.
 

Richard Woodfield of  The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) said it was vital people did not confuse herbal medicines and homeopathic ones. “Registered homeopathic products that contain aconite are considered acceptably safe as the active ingredient, aconite, is sufficiently diluted,” he said. “Herbal medicines, however, are made from plants, and so can have a very significant effect on the body. In certain cases, such as with aconite, the medicine can be extremely potent.”

This warning follows up on a 2007 study by researchers at Harvard University who found that because of aconitine’s unique voltage shift in cell activation, it not only causes dangerous cardiac arrhythmia, but also induces repetitive discharges in nerve cells.

aconite 2Aconite goes back a long way in folk medicine’s history. For centuries, roots harvested from a variety of monkshood plants have been used in Chinese and Japanese medicine for analgesic, anti-rheumatic, and neurological uses.  As wolfbane, it was believed to repel the werewolf and protect anyone who wore it from a wolf’s attack, or similarly, used to poison bait left out to kill the wolf. It was a popular poison in ancient Rome to fulfill the death penalty for convicted criminals. Later, the Roman government declared the use of the herb illegal and punished herbalists who grew it.  And meanwhile, over on the lovely island of Ceos in the Aegean Sea, aconite was administered to old or infirm men who “were of no further use to the state”. When villages were attacked in Medieval Europe, villagers would poison the water supply with aconitum before fleeing for safety. The tuber of aconitum ferox was used by Himalayan hunters to poison their arrows.

Even in the practice of modern homeopathy, however, where it has been used for intense-onset illnesses like fever, cold or earache, extreme caution is warranted. Legal restrictions limit aconite in lotion form to not exceed 1.3 parts of aconite to 100 parts of lotion.  But to be effective, the homeopathic therapeutic dose is so close to the toxic level that it should never be used internally, and external application should never be done over broken skin. Even application to unbroken skin can be toxic (and potentially fatal) due to absorption through the skin.

Eating a leaf or snacking on a tiny portion of the root causes immediate numbness and tingling in the mouth. The roots are particularly toxic to both humans and pets. Reported symptoms of aconite poisoning are crawling skin, vomiting and coldness.

So unless you have an enemy army advancing on you, or a werewolf skulking around your garden shed, the beautiful purple monkshood deserves to be left alone in your perennial borders. Enjoy the flowers, from a distance.

Find out more information about the recent aconite health advisory.

 

 

7 Responses to “Warning: ‘herbal valium’ aconite is dangerous for your heart”

  1. B. Speers July 19, 2012 at 11:00 am #

    Aconite is only harmful if improperly grown, processed, or ingested without herbs that neutralize the alkaloids. For a better understanding of aconite’s medicinal qualities, history, and safe usage, see this article:

    Like

    • Carolyn Thomas July 19, 2012 at 7:40 pm #

      Why would you even consider taking a chance on this, given the risks?

      Like

  2. Herbals Heal March 17, 2010 at 5:49 am #

    We have been selling aconite for decades in our business with no ill effects reported by our customers. This kind of article just serves to scare people needlessly.

    Like

    • brian smith October 19, 2010 at 8:00 pm #

      It amazes me how people are so quick to judge herbal remedies but every drug that is advertised on tv it seems states “can cause death, heart attack and stroke” but people do not care because it is prescription.

      Like

  3. Ilona March 10, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    This is why I love myheartsisters.org. Fascinating post – I’m forwarding this to my sister who works in the vitamin/supplement industry.

    Like

  4. Val February 12, 2010 at 1:59 am #

    Hi. I enjoyed reading through this article on herbal aconite. VERY good information. I also subscribed for your RSS feed. Carry on this good work!

    Like

  5. richard bianco November 2, 2009 at 10:26 pm #

    I’ve just spent an hour on your website, so thanks for the great info .

    Like

Your opinion matters. What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: