Aconite / Wolfbane

Aconite / Wolfbane (Fu Zi)

Botanical Name: Western – Aconitum napellus. Eastern – Aconitum charmichaeleae, A. ferox, A. Kusnezoffii, A. lycoctonum.

The Aconitum family, while highly toxic, is recognized in many healing traditions as a powerful medicine. It has a long history of effective and safe use in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Tibetan Medicine, and Ayurvedic Medicine. In TCM, both the “daughter root” (Fu Zi) and the “mother root” (Chuan Wu Tou) of the same species (A. charmichaeleae) are used. In TCM, processed aconite is called the “King of 100 Herbs” and is famous for tonifying Yang. It is used to heal heart disease, chronic and severe conditions, and treat pain. Linaments or ointments containing aconite are used externally to ease neuralgia and arthritis. Winter aconite (Eranthis hyemalis), is an entirely different plant than aconite, but is similarly highly toxic and only used as a homeopathic remedy.

Watch a short video, from Ann Christensen, Founder and Creator of White Rabbit Institute of Healing™ – A Toxic Herb that Heals…

Remember to check with your doctor before trying new medicines or herbal remedies, especially if you are taking other medication where drug interactions are possible.

Below is an overview of Aconite / Wolfbane, combining the best of Western Science, Oriental Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Shamanism, Folklore, and a wide range of healing modalities. Gain a balanced and thorough understanding of the healing properties of Aconite / Wolfbane.

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JOIN ME in an exploration of the healing herb, Aconite / Wolfbane (Fu Zi). Dive deep into the benefits and applications of Aconite / Wolfbane, from Eastern and Western perspectives, and so much more!

Western

Western Name: Aconite / Wolfbane

Also Known As: Wolf’s Bane, Monkshood, Mousebane, Queen of Poisons, Chinese Aconite, Carmichael’s Monkshood, Chinese Wolfsbane

Organs/Systems: Heart, Lungs, Nervous System

Key Actions: Toxic, Anodyne, Diuretic, Diaphoretic, Analgesic, Anti-inflammatory, Anticancer, Antiviral, Anxiolytic

Medicinal Uses: Tonsillitis, neuralgia, arthritis, cancer, severe migraines, anxiety, insomnia, croup, laryngitis, pneumonia, fevers, high blood pressure.

Eastern

Pin Yin: Fu Zi (translates as “Recharging the Essence Seed” / Daughter Root)

Also Known As: Wu Tou, Chuan Wu Tou (aka Chuan Wu / Mother Root), Cao Wu (A. Kusnezoffii)

Meridians: Fu Zi – Heart, Spleen, Kidney.
Chuan Wu Tou – Heart, Liver, Spleen.

Key Actions: Fu Zi – Warms the Interior, Expels Cold, Restore and Tonifies Yang, Tonifies Kidney Yang, Warms and Opens the 12 Channels, Relieves Pain, Tonifies the Heart, Dispels Dampness.
Chuan Wu Tou – Expels Wind-Damp, Disperses Cold, Relieves Pain.

Medicinal Uses: Fu Zi – Shock from death of Yang, poor circulation, relieve pain due to Cold and weak Yang, chronic severe Cold diseases, cancer, cardiac arrest, arrhythmia, raise or lower blood pressure, asthma, cognitive decline, arthritis, endocrine imbalances, impotence, colds and flu, viral infections, fevers, muscle spasms, anxiety, insomnia, profuse sweating, cold sweats, shortness of breath, extremely cold extremities, hot flashes, anxiety, subcutaneous ulcer sores, labor pains, chronic inflammation, cold pain in the heart, stomach or abdomen, wounds, tumors, diarrhea with undigested bits of food, faint pulse.
Chuan Wu Tou – Damp/Cold painful obstruction, Cold and pain in the chest and abdomen, severe migraines, cluster headaches, and pain from trauma.

Basic Habitat/Botany:

Aconite is a genus made up of over 200 species belonging to the Ranunculaceae family, aka the buttercup family. They are perennial plants with dark purple or deep blue colored flowers that are often described as “helmet-shaped.” The plants can grow to be 3 to 5 ft tall. Its leaves are deeply divided in a palmate manner, dark green and glossy.

Aconite is native to the mountainous regions of the northern hemisphere in Europe, Asia, Tibet, and India. These plants can also be found today in the United States and Canada.

Parts Most Frequently Used: Aconite / Wolfbane – The whole plant.
Fu Zi – The daughter roots.
Chuan Wu Tou – The mother root.

Flavors/Temps: Aconite / Wolfbane and Fu Zi – Pungent, Sweet, Hot.
Chuan Wu Tou – Acrid, Bitter, Slightly Sweet, Very Hot.

Caution: The alkaloids in unprocessed aconite are highly toxic. Even very small amounts can be lethal. Processed aconite, or the less toxic varieties, used in TCM, Ayurvedic, and Tibetan medicines are highly useful medicines in the hands of professional herbalists. Never use it while pregnant or on broken skin. Not for use for illnesses caused by Heat. Traditionally not used with Fritilariae, Trichosanthis, Bletilla Striata, Pinellia, or Cynanchi Baiwei. Raw aconite is toxic, dangerous, and highly poisonous and is never recommended for use.

Key Constituents: Alkaloids, Aconitine, Strychnine, Nicotine, Mesaconitine, Hypaconitine, Jesaconitine, Fuzinoside, Polysaccharides, Starch

History/Folklore: Not traditionally used in Western herbalism, except as a poison, aconite has a long history of effective and safe use as a healing medicine in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), Ayurvedic, and Tibetan Medicine. “True aconite” (A. napellus or A. carmichaeli) is called Fu Zi and Chuan Wu in TCM. Fu Zi is the daughter root, and Chuan Wu is the mother root. Aconite is especially valued for treating chronic and recalcitrant diseases. In TCM, properly grown and processed aconite is one of the most respected herbs for Yang collapse causing pain, endocrine dysfunction (including diabetes, Addison’s disease, Cushing’s syndrome, Graves’ disease), auto-immune disease, and cancer. In TCM, aconite (A. charmichaeleae) is considered the king of the most revered and commonly used medicinal herbs. It is called the “King of the 100 Herbs”. Even processed aconite remains toxic, this is an herb for trained practitioners. Raw aconite is extremely poisonous.

In Tibet there are 4 types described: Black, Red, White, and Yellow. The “Black” aconite was associated with A. carmichaeli, commonly used in TCM, A. napellus used in Europe, and A. ferox commonly used in Ayurvedic Medicine (which is also considered to be one of the most toxic of all the species). In all these systems this “black” aconite required processing to remove the numbing and toxic properties. The “white” and “yellow” aconites are considered non-toxic, or at least significantly less toxic than the “black”, are associated with A. heterohpyllum and A. lycoctonum. A. lycoctonum is widely used in Ayurvedic medicine, even to treat small children, without any preparation. It is an intensely bitter herb but not numbing in the way that other aconite species are. The “red” aconite is considered by some to actually be a species of Delphinium, often confused with aconite, and sometimes called “Wolfsbane with Delphinium Flowers.”

According to Greek mythology, A. napellus originated from the foaming mouth of the three-headed dog, Cerberus, the beast that guarded the gates to the underworld. His bite was poisonous and deadly, as the raw herb can especially be. Due to this plant’s poisonous nature it became known in the West as leopard killer, woman killer, brute killer, dog killer, and wolfsbane. The name wolfsbane derives from the practice of mixing the unprocessed roots with raw meat to kill wolves.

Assassination stories due to wolfsbane are numerous in Western herbalism where the herb was most commonly used as a deadly poison. The plant’s medicinal values were not fully explored until the 18th century when the Viennese physician Anton Sroerck published his clinical observations about the possible healing benefits of aconite.

In contrast, aconite is held in very high regard in TCM, where the herb has been used for over 2,000 years and is called “the King of the 100 herbs”, even as its toxic properties were well known and made use of to hunt animals and to poison tips of arrows in war. Antidotes to counteract the poison are found in some of China’s earliest medical texts.

An important Taoist text, Huainanzi, stated in the 2nd century BCE, that “there is no substance on earth more toxic than Chicken Poison (an ancient term for Chuan Wu) yet a good physician collects it and stores it away to be used for medicinal purposes.

While Fu Zi and Chuan Wu have similar properties, it is said that Chuan Wu (the mother root) is more effective in dispelling Cold and alleviating pain. It is also considered more toxic and less tonifying than Fu Zi (the daughter root). Cao Wu (A. Kusnezoffii) has similar properties as Fu Zi and Chuan Wu, but is gathered wild and not cultivated. It is considered both stronger and more toxic than either Fu Zi and Chuan Wu and is rarely ever used.

In TCM, the poisonous aspects of aconite were understood to be the result of an extreme concentration of life engendering Yang Qi. Raw and unprocessed it was too intense, and like a lightning strike (an image of unbridled life force in ancient times) could cause death. Direct exposure to its raw form was simply too powerful and dangerous. In its processed forms, it can save lives.

Some of the earliest names for aconite in ancient China have gone on to become synonymous with the idea of “medicine” itself. The herb’s ability to tonify Yang Qi, led to names such as Jin (Fertile Earth), Gen (Consolidator), and Jian (Life-Force Builder, a direct reference to the 6 central stars of the Dipper and Hexagram 1 (The Creative) in the I Ching, the ancient Taoist Book of Changes, that lies at the heart of Traditional Chinese Medicine.) The character for the most commonly used name, Fu Zi, references the unique shape of the root and can be translated as “Recharging the Essence Seed.”

Fu Zi and Chaun Wu (aka Wu Tou, or Chuan Wu Tou) are the same species, A. charmichaeleae. Fu Zi is the lateral and accessory roots, commonly called the “daughter root”, Chuan Wu refers to the mother root or tuber, and is from the original parent plant. (And to be clear, Cao Wu (A. kusnezoffii) is a different species and extremely toxic.)

The most dangerous compound found in aconite is the alkaloid, aconitine. All parts of the plant contain highly toxic cardiotoxins, including mesaconitine and hypaconitine. These alkaloids activate voltage-sensitive sodium channels in the heart and other nervous tissues, rendering them numb. Within 10 minutes of ingestion toxic symptoms can be experienced that include numb mouth, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, hypertension, ventricular tachycardia, shortness of breath, and death. Even very small amounts can be lethal.

Research is indicating that the compounds fuzinoside, mesaconine, and higenamine, though highly toxic, contribute to the herb’s cardiotonic properties. The compounds are also associated with anti-inflammatory, immunoregulation, analgesic, properties as well as increasing metabolic function. Aconite is known for inducing a range of calcium-related physiological changes that impact neurotransmitter pathways related to heart, respiratory, and brain function. The compounds aconitine, mesaconitine, and hypaconitine can induce contractions of the ileum through acetylcholine release (a neurotransmitter) from the postganglionic cholinergic nerves. This suggests the herbs efficacy for patients with combined symptoms of neurological, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal disorders.

In TCM, special growing techniques, harvesting techniques, processing techniques, and combining the processed herb with other medicinal herbs contributes to counteracting the toxic side effects of the raw herb. The region of Mianyang (Jiangyou) in Sichuan Province is still considered to be the best location for cultivating aconite (A. charmichaelii). The area has a unique soil composition that is particularly rich in minerals and metals that benefit the herbs efficacy and contribute to making it less toxic. Traditional growing techniques also included transplanting the seedlings just after the winter solstice, for harvesting just before the summer solstice, when nature’s Yang Qi is at its peak.

Chinese materia medica contains about 70 post-harvest processing techniques aimed at reducing the toxic properties of aconite. The toxic alkaloid compounds, especially aconitine, found in aconite, are very sensitive to heating. Roasting, boiling, and today, pressure-steaming can eliminate most of the alkaloids rendering the herb safe to use in proper dosing and as recommended.

After harvest the unprocessed aconite root can decay rapidly (within a week) unless it is immediately immersed in brine. This was done to preserve the roots until a full harvest could be completed. Traditionally, all the brine was then removed from the raw aconite before heating and processing would occur. Some modern industrial production of aconite has not removed the salt prior to processing and may be the cause of some reports of possible problems for patients with kidney issues. Further, it has become a common practice to remove the root peel by immersion in hydrochloric acid, further interfering with the traditional chemical alchemy of the roots that have been being used successfully for over 2,000 years.

Pay attention to your sources. 95% of the aconite found in today’s markets do not follow any of the above mentioned practices. Even products stamped as being “genuine Jiangyou Provence aconite” have been actually farmed in other places and simply sent to Jiangyou for distribution and to receive the stamp indicating “from Jiangyou”.

Regrettably, much of today’s commercially available aconite is of inferior quality, not grown in superior conditions, having salt levels over 70% and then exposed to root immersion in hydrochloric acid that can actually contribute to potential toxicity. Fortunately there is a growing movement to return to traditional farming, harvesting, and processing techniques to insure the continued production of this “King of 100 Herbs” Genuinely grown and traditionally produced aconite, while much more expensive due to its labor intensive requirements, is becoming increasingly available beyond Chinese hospitals where trained doctors care more about quality than cost. Classical Pearls is one brand recommended as a source for high quality traditionally produced aconite.

The final key to using aconite in TCM is the attention paid to using the herb in combination with other herbs that further helps to contain its toxicity and enhance its healing properties. It is commonly combined with licorice, ginseng, and fresh ginger.

Dosing is important. Too little will cause Yang Qi to go to the Middle Burner, larger doses help the Yang Qi to descend to the Ming Men (the Gate of Fire) located in the Kidneys where it supports the tonification of Kidney Yang. Depending on what is being treated will determine the proper dose. Typically, only 3-15g per day are recommended. Less amounts are considered better for easing pain, easing digestive issues, and opening the 12 Channels, while slightly larger doses are recommended for treating severe or chronic conditions.

In general, processed aconite slices should be boiled for 1-2 hours before adding any additional ingredients. This heating will help to further reduce toxicity levels. However, this herb is not recommended for use by anyone other than trained practitioners who understand how to use the herb properly and what other herbs to best combine it with. Aconite is not used alone.

Virtually, all the clinical studies of aconite are based on the raw unprocessed aconite which is highly toxic and entirely different from the properly grown and processed aconite used in TCM. Further studies are needed on the benefits of the properly processed herb.

The fresh leaves, flowers, and tops of plants are used in Europe to make Extract of Aconitum. The flowers are harvested just when they are breaking into bloom and the leaves are at their best, usually around June.

In the spring lateral buds develop into short shoots, which produce their own long descending root, crowned with a bud. These are called daughter roots (Fu Zi). These roots will rapidly thicken, filled with material produced by the parent (mother) plant. The mother root (Chuan Wu) will die off as the daughter root increases in size. In autumn as the parent plant dies down, the daughter roots will have reached their maximum development and are full of starch. If they are not harvested and allowed to continue growing, the buds that crown the daughter roots will begin to grow in the late winter, exhausting the root and the proportion of starch and alkaloids is lessened. Medicinal aconite daughter roots are harvested in the summer when they have separated from their parent root, or in the winer, after the parent root has withered.

One preparation of aconite leaves the roots blackened (aka Black Aconite Daughter Root/Hei Fu Pian) and is thought to be best for focusing the action of the herb on the Kidneys. Another preparation leaves the herb white (aka White Aconite Daughter Root/Bai Fu Pian) and is prefered for treating painful obstructions. Generally, aconite will be yellowish white, translucent, moist, and of equal size. Studies in China have shown that decocting the root for longer periods of time increases the herbs cardiotoxicity. Aconite will be parboiled for anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours before adding other herbs to reduce toxicity and support the condition being treated.

Homeopathics use the whole herb in their preparations. Homeopathically aconite napellus is used to treat heart disease, asthma, cognitive decline, arthritis, colds and flu, viral infections, muscle spasms, kidney stones, vertigo, migraines, congestion and helps to protect vision.

In Europe, aconite was grown to protect against vampires and werewolves.

Be aware that Aconitum hyemale, aka Winter Wolfsbane, is often traditionally classed as an aconite. It is actually not a true aconite, and in fact, bears no resemblance to true aconite plants.

Remember, the aconite family of plants is poisonous. Some varieties are far more poisonous than others, so be sure of your botanical names, species, and how to process this plant. There are even some reports that aconite root has been mistaken for horseradish.

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Did you know?

Grows in the Shade

Aconite likes to grow on the shady side of hillsides, a strongly associated Yin environment. This points to the herb’s strong Yang energies as it would need significant Yang energy to thrive in such a Yin location.
Facts

Chelation Therapy

Raw, unprocessed aconite is highly toxic. Chelation therapy, such as with activated charcoal, used within an hour of ingestion, can bind to the poison and help expel it from the body, potentially helping to manage the toxicity, but it is not a complete antidote. Go to the hospital immediately, as raw and unprocessed aconite is highly poisonous and dangerous.
Fun fact!

Harry Potter Wolfsbane Potion

In Harry Potter, the wolfsbane potion was a complex potion that did not cure, but relieved the symptoms of lycanthropy or werewolfry. The potion’s main ingredient was wolfsbane, aka aconite, pulverized black silver, giant moonwort, and myrrh, pickled in carrow spider ichor.

How to use Aconite / Wolfbane (Fu Zi) and take FULL advantage of it's healing powers!

Find out how to safely use this powerful herb and get specific recipes you can make use of immediately. Dive deep into Eastern and Western perspectives about HOW and WHY this herb works. Includes uses, benefits, essential oils, gardening tips, and much, much more.

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