Twelve people had to be taken to hospital after eating food in a restaurant flavoured with spices containing aconite, also known as monk’s weed. The plant is a serious neurotoxin and is found in gardens and mountainous areas of North America, Europe and Asia.
Food contaminated with toxic aconite was eaten in a restaurant near Toronto, Canadian health authorities told the BBC. Twelve people have been hospitalised and four are in intensive care. Authorities say the accidental poisoning was caused by two powdered, contaminated spice products. One is the radix aconiti kusnezoffii, a traditional Chinese medicine, and the other is galangal, a spice mixture commonly used in Asian cuisine. This was confirmed by laboratory tests and the two products were immediately withdrawn from the market by the authorities.
Aconite, also known as devil’s helmet, monk’s weed, thistle, is common in gardens and mountainous areas of North America, Europe and Asia. The plant, in its toxin-purified form, has been used for thousands of years in traditional Chinese medicine for such conditions as bloating, joint pain and gout. Its main distribution area coincides with the bumblebee habitat, as the special flower can only be pollinated by these species.
Monk’s weed root is a fast-killing, extremely potent neurotoxin. Symptoms of poisoning range from a few minutes to 1.5-2 hours after ingestion or application to the skin. Painful death from paralysis of the respiratory centre or cardiac arrest occurs within half an hour of ingestion of a single teaspoon of powdered aconite.
Symptoms of aconite poisoning
- numbness of the tongue or limbs
- diarrhoea, stomach cramps
- nausea, vomiting
- irregular or rapid heartbeat
- profuse drooling and tearing
- light avoidance
- intense itching of the skin
- difficulty breathing
- fear of death
Antidote to aconite
There is currently no antidote for aconite poisoning. Treatment is mainly supportive, such as putting patients on a ventilator or keeping the heart alive with a bypass machine. Because the poison works quickly, people who are poisoned cannot get to hospital quickly enough. The plant is also known as the “queen of poisons” because of its amazing “potency”.