Botanical name: Aconitum carmichaeli
Common name: Aconite root, Monkshood
Literal name translation: appendage
Family: Ranunculaceae, buttercup family
Part used in Chinese medicine: prepared accessory root
Major Chinese medicine actions:
Warms and revives yang, disperses cold
Left photo credit Richo Cech
(Strictly Medicinal Seeds)
Aconitum carmichaelii is indigenous in the region stretching from China to Russia. It is commonly cultivated in gardens in the U.S. for its tall stalks of large, striking, deep blue-violet flowers blooming in autumn. The entire plant is highly toxic and the root should only be ingested in prepared form with careful attention to appropriate medicinal dosage.
Growing and Propagation
Aconite is best grown in cool, moist, fertile soil in partial shade, but will tolerate most soils and full sun. In the wild, it is best suited to woodland areas. Cultivated plants grow 5-6 feet tall and are generally propagated by seed. They can also be divided every third year in fall or early spring, though can be slow to re-establish after dividing or transplanting. Aconite is hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8.
Harvesting and Preparation
The whole plant is highly toxic and the root, which is used medicinally, must be specially prepared. There are various methods of processing, all of which reduce the toxicity of the root, though do not eliminate it. Prepared aconite is referred to as Fu Zi, and is generally baked or quick-fried, usually with ginger or salt.
According to Bensky, Clavey, and Stoger in Chinese Herbal Medicine Materia Medica, by HPLC method of testing, a maximum of 20mg/kg or aconitine should be present in the herb root and if higher, ingestion is dangerous. Only about 10 factories in China are licensed to process this toxic herb for medicinal use and the use of untested aconite of any kind is strongly discouraged.