Queen of Poisons
– Also known as Monkshood and Wolfbane
– Plant contains toxin aconitine
– Most Aconitum species are extremely poisonous
– Mildly poisonous to touch, deadly if ingested
– Almost untraceable during postmortem
– Used around the world as arrow poison
– Commonly used as a poison
– Poison used by The Curry Killer
The Queen of Poisons (also known as monkshood and wolfbane amongst a string of other names) is part of a genus of over 250 plants of the Ranunculaceae family. The Aconitum species are native to the mountainous parts of Europe, Asia and North America and most species are extremely poisonous. Even so, several have won gardening awards and some are used by florists.
The plant contains the highly toxic aconitine, just 1 gram of the plant can cause death if ingested. Even touching the plant can poison: numbness and tingling, headaches, nausea and palpitations. The toxin causes death through paralysis of respiratory or heart function (rapid hear arrhythmia, asphyxiation and finally suffication) after initial gastrointestinal symptoms. A small dose can take two to six hours to kill while a larger dose can kill immediately.
Treatment is mostly supportive, monitoring blood pressure and cardiac rhythm. Activated charcoal helps to decontaminate the poison, but must be given within an hour of ingestion. The major physiological antidote is atropine.
Aconite is a favourite with poisoners because it can be absorbed through touch and is nearly undetectable post mortem – the only sign is asphyxia. Emperor Claudius was killed by poison, believed to be aconite and thought to have been in a plate of mushrooms he’d eaten. It’s also been suggested Alexander the Great was murdered with aconite.
Pope Clement VII, in 1524, is said to have conducted the first recorded human trial of aconite, poisoning prisoners with aconite laced marzipan to test an antidote.The prisoners given the antidote survived while those that weren’t died in agony.
In 1857, during the Indian Rebellion, a plan to poison a British detachment was thwarted just as they were about to consume an aconite poisoned meal. The Indian cooks refused to taste the food so it was force fed to a monkey which died straight away (the cooks were hanged).
American murderer George Lamson used aconite in 1881 to gain an inheritance by murdering his brother-in-law. Canadian actor Andre Noble died after accidentally eating Aconitum sp. while hiking in Newfoundland in 2004.
In 2009, the Curry Killer, Lakhvir Singh, laced the curry dinner of her ex-lover and his fiancee with aconite. The killer went to their apartment in London knowing they’d eat the curry meal in the fridge. After the dinner her ex-lover’s face became numb and he started to vomit, lose vision and the use of his limbs. During a call to emergency services he said he’d been poisoned by his ex-girlfriend. He died within an hour of being admitted to hospital. His fiancee, who had the same symptoms, was placed in a medically induced coma and made a full recovery. Singh received a life sentence with a 23-year minimum.