A woman who unwittingly drank tea containing a lethal poison that she purchased from an herbalist in Chinatown in San Francisco has died, public health officials announced.
The woman, whose identity has been withheld, reportedly became ill within an hour of drinking the tea in February, said Rachael Kagan, a spokesperson for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The woman, who was in her 50s and was a resident of San Francisco, began experiencing weakness and abnormal heart rates, the Los Angeles Times reports. The patient requires resuscitations and had to be hospitalized for weeks. She died on Saturday.
A man, this time in his 30s, also drank the same tea and began suffering from the same health conditions. He became critically ill and had to be hospitalized. The San Francisco resident has since recovered and was released on March 12, Kagan said.
The health department said that both patients had bought tea leaves at Sun Wing Wo Trading Company in Chinatown. They picked different blends of medicinal teas that contained various ingredients. The teas were mixed at the shop.
Lab tests performed on the patients and the tea samples found aconite, a plant-based toxin.
Health officials are also testing the other ingredients used to make the teas.
Aconite, commonly called monkshood, is a wild plant that is extremely toxic, according to the Journal of Clinical Toxicology. Also called wolf’s bane, helmet flower, “chuanwu,” “fuzi” or “caowu,” the plant is used in traditional Asian herbal medicine as a treatment for bruises, pain and other physical ailments.
In Chinese medicine, only the roots are used after they have been sufficiently processed to lessen the plant’s toxic content. High doses of aconite brings on numbness, weakness, palpitations, vomiting, chest pains, abdominal pains and diarrhea. The poison attacks the heart, making it lethal.
According to health officials, there is no antidote for aconite.
Environmental health inspectors visited the Chinatown shop to inspect the leaves the patients bought. It is unclear how the aconite got mixed in with the tea leaves, Kagan said. But the shop owner is working with the health department to find where the toxin came from.