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 alatum Wender.
Aconitum albidum Bernh. ex Rchb.
Aconitum amoenum Rchb.
Aconitum ampliflorum Rchb.
Aconitum anglicum Stapf
Aconitum bavaricum Starm.
Aconitum braunii Rchb.
Aconitum caeruleum Dulac
Aconitum canescens Schleich. ex Rchb.
Aconitum clusii Pohl
Aconitum clusii Rchb.
Aconitum commutatum Rchb.
Aconitum compactum (Rchb.) Gáyer
Aconitum confertum Rchb.
Aconitum corsicum Gáyer
Aconitum densiflorum Hoppe ex Steud.
Aconitum dumetorum Gáyer
Aconitum elatum Salisb.
Aconitum eminens Koch ex Rchb.
Aconitum fornicatum Gilib.
Aconitum funckianum Rchb.
Aconitum funckii Rchb.
Aconitum giganteum Host ex Steud.
Aconitum grandiflorum Pall. ex Rchb.
Aconitum guttatum Turcz. ex Regel
Aconitum halleri Rchb.
Aconitum hoppeanum Rchb.
Aconitum hoppii Rchb.
Aconitum inunctum Koch ex Rchb.
Aconitum laetum Rchb.
Aconitum laxiflorum Schleich.
Aconitum laxum Rchb.
Aconitum linnaeanum Gáyer
Aconitum lobelianum (Rchb.) Host
Aconitum meyeri Rchb.
Aconitum microphyllum Gaudin ex Steud.
Aconitum microstachyum Rchb.
Aconitum napelloides Sw. ex Rchb.
Aconitum neomontanum Wulfen ex Koelle
Aconitum neubergense DC.
Aconitum obscurum Rchb. ex S.Watson
Aconitum occidentale Timb.-Lagr.f. ex Gáyer
Aconitum oliganthemum A.Kern.
Aconitum oligocarpum Rchb.
Aconitum pauciflorum Bertol.
Aconitum pubescens Moench
Aconitum pumilum Schur
Aconitum pygmaeum Steud.
Aconitum pyramidale Mill.
Aconitum rubellum Sweet
Aconitum schleicheri Rchb.
Aconitum spicatum Donn
Aconitum sqarrosum Koch ex Rchb.
Aconitum strictum Bernh. ex DC.
Aconitum tenuifolium Rchb.
Aconitum venustum Rchb.
Aconitum virgatum Rchb.
Aconitum virosum D.Don
Aconitum vulgare DC.
Aconitum willdenowii Rchb.
Aconitum wulfenianum Rchb. ex Steud.
Delphinium napellus (L.) Baill.
Napellus vulgaris Fourr..
Common Name: Aconite
Plants growing in the Vallée du Marcadau, Pyrenees, France
Photograph by: Guérin Nicolas
Aconitum napellus is a herbaceous perennial plant producing an erect, very leafy stem up to 100cm tall[
Although toxic, the plant has a long history of medicinal use and, although little used in modern western Herbalism, still finds a place in eastern herbal traditions. It is locally traded for medicinal use and is also grown as an ornamental.
The plant has a widespread distribution, increasing populations and no known major threats. It is classified as 'Least Concern' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species(2013)[
The whole plant is highly toxic, acting especially on the nerve centres. At first it stimulates the central and peripheral nervous system and then paralyzes it. Other symptoms of poisoning include a burning sensation on the tongue, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhoea. Simple skin contact with the plant has caused numbness in some people[
]. The root contains 90% more poison than the leaves[
Most of Europe, including Britain, east to N. W. Asia and the Himalayas.
Damp shady places and moist rich meadows in southern Wales and south-western England[
]. It is usually found in calcareous soils[
|Conservation Status||Least Concern
|Cultivation Status||Ornamental, Wild
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[
]. Plants only thrive in a sunny position if the soil remains moist throughout the growing season[
]. Prefers a calcareous soil. Tolerates a pH in the range 4.5 to 7.5.
Plants take 2 - 3 years to flower when grown from seed[
Grows well in open woodlands[
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[
The flowers are very attractive to bees[
Members of this genus seem to be immune to the predations of rabbits and deer[
Although the plant is a perennial, individual roots only live for one year and die after flowering. Each root produces a number of 'daughter' roots before it dies and these can be used for propagating the plant[
A greedy plant, inhibiting the growth of nearby species, especially legumes[
An aggregate species which is divided by some botanists into many species[
Some reports suggest the root is edible if cooked[
], but these should be treated with extreme caution due to the highly toxic nature of the plant[
Aconite has been used since ancient times, especially as an antidote to poisoning[
]. Since the entire plant is itself very toxic, however, any use should be under the guidance of a skilled practitioner[
]. All parts of the plant are used medicinally. The root is the most important and this is harvested as soon as the plant dies down in the autumn and is dried before use[
]. The other parts of the plant are less important and are used fresh, being harvested when the plant is coming into flower[
The root is analgesic, anodyne, antirheumatic, diaphoretic, diuretic, irritant and sedative[
]. Due to its poisonous nature, it is not normally used internally though it has been used in the treatment of fevers[
]. Externally, it is applied to unbroken skin in the treatment of rheumatism, painful bruises, neuralgia etc[
All parts of the plant, except the root, are harvested when the plant is in flower and used to make a homeopathic medicine[
]. This is analgesic and sedative and is used especially in the treatment of fevers, inflammation, bronchitis, neuralgia etc[
A preparation of aconite is used in Homeopathy to treat fear, anxiety, and restlessness; acute sudden fever; symptoms from exposure to dry, cold weather or very hot weather; tingling, coldness, and numbness; influenza or colds with congestion; and heavy, pulsating headaches[
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[