The plant Akonite was known to the ancients, and mentioned by Nicander, Dioscorides, Theophrastus, Galen, Paulus Agineta, and others. It is referred to as a virulent poison; but there have been many doubts as to whether the Aconite of the Greeks is the same as that used by us at the present
Dioscorides described two species ; Dodonseus, Sprengel, and Woodville agree that the second described by that author, viz. the Kukotovov
(” Aconitum alterum quod nonnulli Cycoctorum, alii Lycoctonum vocant, plurimum in Italia nascitur”), is the Aconitum napellus or Wolfsbane.
The Aconitum of Theophrastus has been referred, to the Ranunculus Thora, by Sprengel. fide Supp. to Dunbar’s Lex.) Allalus, coeval with Cato, cultivated, in a garden, the Aconite, and other poisonous plants, and administered them for the purpose of experiment, so as to discover their antidotes, f Plutarch, Demet.J
Aconite is often referred to in mythological history ; it was supposed to be the principal ingredient in the deadly draught given to the old men of Ceos, when they had become too infirm to be serviceable to their country. Medea was said to have used it in composing the poisonous drink she intended Theseus to quaff”. It is also fabled as caused by Hecate to spring from the mouth of Cerberus : ” Ut ab Hecate inventum aut ex Cerberi spuma enatum pronunciarent.”
Theophrastus relates that there was a mode of preparing the Aconite in his day, so that it should only destroy at the end of one or two years. It is asserted, that the huntsmen of the Alps dipped their arrows into the juice of this plant when hunting wolves ; hence the name Wolfsbane. In later times it has been employed in the attempt to destroy whole armies, as the Indian poison Bihk or Bisch, with which the natives poisoned the tanks in the Burmese war, is supposed to have been a preparation of one of its species, the Aconitum ferox.
As a medicine, it was used by the ancients chiefly as an anodyne, and as an external application, to relieve pain in the eyes. It fell into disuse, until the time of Storck, who vaunted its powers as an antispasmodic, stimulant to the absorbents, diuretic and diaphoretic. From its very remarkable effects, as related by Storck, it was first introduced into the Pharmacopoeias, but has been chiefly used since then as a topical remedy in neuralgic and rheumatic pains, and internally, in gout, rheumatism, some skin diseases, scrofula, phthisis, scirrhus and cancer, intermittents, dropsies, paralysis, epilepsy, amaurosis, uterine affection’s, and hypertrophy of the heart.
The name of this plant is derived, according to Theophrastus, from Aconis, a city of Bithynia, in the neighbourhood of which it grew in abundance. Pliny ascribes its etymology to Axovij, a whetstone.
Others, according to Burnett, derive its name from axovlyos, pulveris expers, without dust, because the plant grows on rocks destitute of soil; but this applies more to the Aconitum neomontanum. Others, again, derive the word from aeon, acne, a dart, because savage nations dipped their
arrows into a poison made from this plant. The word Napellus is from napus, a turnip, from the similarity of its root to that vegetable.
The provings of Aconite, by Hahnemann, have given to the homeopathic practitioner a remedy which must ever hold a prominent, if not the first, place in our Pharmacopceia.
The following are his observations upon this medicine, in his Materia Medica Pura.
” Although the symptoms detailed do not fully express all the medicinal power of this precious plant, they afford the discerning homeopathist the means of judging how far it is useful in certain states of disease, in which the antiphlogistic treatment of the old practice has hitherto been applied. I refer to purely inflammatory fevers, in which a small dose of Aconite, taking the place of all antipathic remedies, produces a ready cure, without any subsequent affections.
” In measles, the purple miliary fever, inflammatory fever with pleurisy, etc., the efficacy of this plant is most powerful, provided the patient observes a cool diet, abstaining from everything medicinal, even from vegetable acids.
” Banishing from our system all idea of resemblance to that in ordinary usage, which is too often influenced by the names of imaginary diseases, it is necessary that the primary morbid conditions, under which Aconite is proposed, should present, in their principal symptoms, a strong analogy to those which are caused by this medicine. Its success is then most satisfactory.
” In acute inflammatory fevers, where it has been imagined that the patient can alone be relieved by copious and repeated bleedings. Homoeopathy asserts its great superiority, in being, by the use of this medicine, able to overcome fevers and restore health in a shorter period of time than under the allopathic treatment, without being obliged to shed a single drop of blood, — that vital fluid which has been so often dangerously lavished under the old system.
” It is sometimes requisite, in acute disorders, to use another homeopathic medicine, to remove those morbid symptoms that still remain after those which the Aconite has subdued ; but it is seldom needful to repeat the dose of Aconite.
” By giving Aconite with these precautions, in the diseases to which I refer, the circulation by degrees returns to its usual state.
” Although from the short duration of its action, which in small doses does not exceed thirty- six or forty-eight hours. Aconite would appear to be useful only in acute cases, yet it is not less so in the most obstinate chronic disorders, in which the condition of the body requires the modification of what is called rigidity of fibre ; a subject upon which I cannot now enlarge. Its efficacy in such cases results from the development of the symptoms produced by it in the healthy subject.
” Aconite is also the chief and most powerful means of cure in the croup ; in several species of angina, as well as in local acute
inflammation in other parts of the body, especially when thirst and a quick pulse are connected with restless impatience, agitation that nothing can suppress, and a excitation like that caused by Aconite. It produces, when given in health, all the morbid symptoms manifested by persons under the influence of fear, combined with anger ; and it is also the most certain means of curing them rapidly.
” Whenever Aconite is chosen homeopathically, you must, above all, observe moral symptoms, and be careful that it closely resembles them.
” Aconite is found of great service in allaying all bad symptoms arising from suppression of secretions, alarm, agitation, or fear.”