COMMON NAMES: Aconite, Aticish (Nepali, ‘very poisonous’), Bachnag (Persian), Bish (Arabic), Black Aconite, Blue Aconite, Himalayan Monkshood, Mithavis (Hindi), Monk’s Hood, Sman-chen (Tibetan, ‘great medicine), Valsanabhi (Malay), Vatsamabhah (Sanskrit), Wolfbane
Blue aconite is a perennial plant that grows up to one meter in height. It has tuberous roots that are dark brown on the outside and yellow on the inside. The leaves are larger towards the bottom, growing smaller and shorter towards the top of the plant. The flowers are purple-blue and located at the end of the stems. The fruit is a tube-like capsule that opens at the top (Ratsch 1998, 31).
Blue aconite is found in Nepal, northern India, and other parts of the Himalayas. It is said to grow at altitudes as high as 4500 meters. Propagation is through seeds, which can simply be strewn about. Blue aconite prefers a stony or rocky soil, and thrives in the crevices between stones (Ratsch 1998, 31).
TRADITIONAL USES: Ancient Vedic texts describe the use of A. ferox as an arrow poison in warfare in ancient India. Those struck with these arrows were said to go mad (Bisset & Mazars 1984). Blue aconite is one of the most dangerous of all poisonous plants, but is also a valuable medicine when prepared in a very specific, correct, and careful way. Nevertheless, just handling the plant can cause serious effects, so it is best to appreciate this teacher from a distance.
The extreme left-handed Indian Tantrists known as the Aghori consume psychoactive plants and poisons in order to practice converting poison to medicine in the bloodstream, which they believe allows them to connect with the divine consciousness of Shiva. At the beginning of time, Shiva consumed every plant, and when he ate A. ferox, it caused him to turn blue. Thus, by consuming this plant, the Aghori believe they can become one with Shiva. In one particularly advanced ritual, a blend of A. ferox and Cannabis is smoked. This mixture can easily cause death, so only the bravest practitioners ever try (Svoboda 1993).
TRADITIONAL PREPARATION: Traditionally, when used in Ayurvedic medicine, the tubers of blue aconite are soaked in the milk or urine of sacred cows to purify them. This removes the poisonous elements from the root. Milk is said to be a better soaking medium than urine. Once the roots have been purified, they are ground to a paste and used as an external application for treating nerve disorders (Warrier et al. 1993).
In dangerous Tantric rituals, the leaves and root may be dried, chopped, mixed with Cannabis, and smoked (Svoboda 1993).
Blue aconite is the most poisonous plant in all of the Himalayas, and can easily cause death if used incorrectly. As little as a few grams of dried or fresh plant material, or 3-6 mg of aconitine, an incredibly toxic diterpenoid alkaloid, is enough to kill an adult. Therefore, it is not recommended that blue aconite be consumed for any reason (Ratsch 1998, 32).
MEDICINAL USE: In Ayurvedic medicine, the roots of blue aconite are purified in cows milk or urine and used to treat nerve pain, inflammation, coughs, digestive problems, skin disease, and many other ailments (Warrier et al. 1993).
Blue aconite, and other Himalayan species of Aconitum are used in Tibetan medicine to treat both excessive cold and excessive heat. The crushed roots may be blended with bezoar stones as a universal healer, particularly useful in treating cancerous tumours. Medicine made from blue aconite is also said to be a powerful remedy in cases of demon possession (Laufer 1991 cited in Ratsch 1998, 32).
TRADITIONAL EFFECTS: Blue aconite contains the alkaloids aconitine and pseudoaconitine. The root contains the greatest concentrations of these constituents, and is therefore the most dangerous part of the plant (Ratsch 1998, 33). Properly prepared Ayurvedic A. ferox is said to be calming, sedating, appetite stimulating, and a potent aphrodisiac. Smoking A. ferox in a Tantric blend can very easily be fatal, and leads to very challenging effects. Even the most advanced practitioners strongly warn against the use of this blend in any circumstances (Svoboda 1993).
Bisset, N.G., and G. Mazars. “Arrow Poisons in South Asia, Part I: Arrow Poisons in Ancient India.” Journal of Ethnopharmacology 12 (n.d.): 1–24.
Ratsch, Christian., The Encyclopedia of Psychoactive Plants: Ethnopharmacology and its Applications. Rochester: Park Street Press, 1998.
Svoboda, R.E. Aghora: At the Left Hand of God. New Delhi: Rupa, 1993.
Warrier, P.K., V.P.K. Nambar, and C. Ramankutty. Indian Medicinal Plants: A Compendium of 500 Species. 5 vols. Madras: Orient Longman, n.d.