The genus Aconitum worldwide is notorious for complex patterns of morphologic intergradation that blur the lines between taxa. Aconites from different regions may be morphologically distinct but connected by a series of intermediate races[
]. There have been huge differences of opinion between botanists as to how to define a species in this genus, with the Flora of N. America recognizing around 100 species worlwide[
], whilst the Flora of China recognizes 211 species in China alone and around 400 species worldwide[
]. We are following the proposed treatment in the 'World Checklist of Selected Plant Families', which is still under review, but currently (2016) recognizes about 320 distinct species (391 including hybrids and infraspecific forms) and over 1,000 synonyms[
Aconitum atees Royle
Aconitum cordatum Royle
Aconitum kashmiricum Stapf ex Coventry
Aconitum ovatum Lindl.
Aconitum petiolare Royle ex Stapf
Aconitum heterophyllum is a herbaceous perennial plant with an erect stem that can be branched or unbranched and is usually 15 - 90cm tall, occasionally reaching 200cm. The stem grows from a biennial tuberous root that produces a new tuber each year, the old tuber dying after the plant flowers[
Aconitum heterophyllum is a highly traded medicinal plant in India, where it is known as 'Ativisa' and is included in the Ayurvedic Formulary of India[
]. This is one of various Aconitum species that are widely harvested from the high altitude alpine and subalpine meadows in the Western Himalayas.
The plant is is harvested for its tubers, which constitute the Ayurvedic plant drug 'Ativisa', and which is included in the Ayurvedic Formulary of India. During collection the whole plant is uprooted. It has been observed, as well as inferred, that the trend of unsustainable collection practice is continuing and more than 70% of the wild population in the Himalayan region of India had declined in the 10 years up to 2003, and that this trend has continued up to 2015.The plant is classified as 'Endangered' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2013)[
The whole plant is highly toxic - simple skin contact has caused numbness in some people[
]. One report says that this plant does not contain the toxic alkaloid aconitine, and so is not poisonous[
]. It does, however, still contain an intensely bitter alkaloid[
The aconites have been of interest since ancient times because they contain diterpene alkaloids that range from relatively nontoxic to deadly poisonous. In various parts of the world they have been used medicinally and as a source of poisons throughout history. The use of Aconitum alkaloids in modern Western medicine was largely discontinued by the late 1930's and early 1940's, though they are still widely used in traditional medicine, especially in Asia[
E. Asia - western Himalayas from Pakistan to Nepal.
Alpine to sub-alpine open slopes; common on grassy meadows, upper oak/coniferous forest; also glacial riverine, rocky moist areas, alpine dry scrub, open grass, shady moist alpine slopes; usually on humus-rich soils; 2,300 - 2,900 metres[
Thrives in most soils and in the light shade of trees[
]. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Prefers a moist soil in sun or semi-shade[
]. Prefers a calcareous soil.
Grows well in open woodlands[
The roots of this plant are extensively collected from the wild for medicinal use and the species is becoming much rarer in many areas of its range[
Members of this genus seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits and deer[
A greedy plant, inhibiting the growth of nearby species, especially legumes[
All Aconitum species are prohibited for export in India if the plants have been collected from the wild. Cultivated specimens can be exported from India. This species has been proposed for inclusion in the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) appendices but is yet to be included[
The trade name is Ativisa. It is taken from wild plants and the root is traded. The material traded under the name ‘Atis’ includes roots of Aconitum bisma, Aconitum violaceum and Chaerophyllum villosum. Estimated consumption is 210 MT per year[
Leaves and root - cooked[
]. This report should be treated with great distrust due to the poisonous nature of the genus, but see the notes above on known hazards[
The farinaceous root is very bitter[
]. This strongly suggests the presence of toxic alkaloids[
The dried root is analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antiperiodic, aphrodisiac, astringent, cholagogue, febrifuge and tonic[
]. It is used in India in the treatment of dyspepsia, diarrhoea and coughs[
]. It is also used in Tibetan medicine, where it is said to have a bitter taste and a cooling potency[
]. It is used to treat poisoning from scorpion or snake bites, the fevers of contagious diseases and inflammation of the intestines[
The root is best harvested in the autumn as soon as the plant dies down and is dried for later use[
]. This is a very poisonous plant and should only be used with extreme caution and under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.
The root is extensively exported from the North-West Himalaya to the plains of India, and can be had practically in every drug-shop throughout the country . . . That it is a mild and pleasant tonic is universally accepted by Indian medical men[
The active principle is Atisinc, an alkaloid, non poisonous in small doses and of a chemical structure very different from aconitine and pseudaconitine[
Aconitum heterophyllum is a highly traded medicinal plant. This species is used as an anthelmintic, anti-inflammatory, antipyretic, analgesic, astringent and febrifuge. It is useful in treating coughs, diarrhoea and indigestion. It is a valuable drug for infants in dentition, diarrhoea, fever and vomiting[
]. Traditionally it has been used as an antidote to poisoning[
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[
]. The seed can be stratified and sown in spring but will then be slow to germinate[
]. When large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a cold frame for their first winter. Plant them out in late spring or early summer.
Division - best done in spring but it can also be done in autumn[
]. Another report says that division is best carried out in the autumn or late winter because the plants come into growth very early in the year[