There are people who arrive with knobs of blue tora and tell us: ‘Look what beautiful flowers I found’. We ask them to throw them away quickly and warn them that they are very poisonous”, says Roger Cararach, one of the guards at the Serra d’Ensija refuge (Berguedà). This mountaineer warns his guests about the characteristics of the lethal Aconitum napellus, known in Catalonia as tora blava, and in other areas of the State, as matalobos, casco de diablo, cohete azul… Faced with the growing number of trips to the mountain, the Federation of Excursionist Organizations of Catalonia (FEEC), the Vall d’Hebron hospital and the University of Girona (UdG) have started a campaign to inform about the dire consequences that can result from holding and approaching the mouth or to the nose this attractive flower that grows between 1,500 and 2,500 meters, in high altitude meadows and in wet areas, such as the banks of rivers and streams.

The Ministry of Health’s Guide to Toxic Plants emphasizes that aconite is one of the most poisonous species in Europe.

The danger begins before it blooms, in the spring, since it is confused with a type of wild celery (Molopospermum peloponnesiacum), the coscoll or broccoli, which is eaten in salads in different areas of the Pyrenees, points out Iñigo Soteras, doctor of emergency at the Cerdanya hospital and member of the FEEC security committee. From mid-July, when it already shows all its splendor, there are not a few people seduced by its striking blue and violet tone that rush to prepare dangerous bouquets. Robert Blasco, anesthetist at the Vall d’Hebron hospital and professor of mountain medicine at the UdG, believes that there are many more cases of intoxication, mild and serious, than those that are diagnosed. Symptoms, neurological, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal, begin about 30 minutes after ingestion and early detection is crucial for correct treatment.

With only between one and two milligrams of the active principle responsible for the toxicity, aconitine, the blue tora, can already have fatal consequences. You don’t have to swallow it to run the risk. Soteras points out that it is important to spread the word that its accidental ingestion has caused casualties; that decades ago caused the death of several members of the same family in Puigcerdà; that history was about to repeat itself in Andorra, in 2018, when a couple and their daughter were admitted in a critical condition for several days, and that two people with very severe symptoms have passed through their hospital in recent years serious for the same reason. One of them is Toni Elias, a 71-year-old resident of La Cerdanya, eager to offer his testimony so that everyone becomes aware of the risks that this plant entails. “My wife and I have a habit of going to the Eina valley when spring breaks out, as it has many endemic species of flora. We went there on May 26, 2020 and met some friends with a bag full of coscolls, a type of celery that is even served in restaurants in Cerdanya. Near the river I saw a plant, I took a bud, put it in my mouth to taste it, but quickly spat it out, as it was very bitter and spicy, it was not coscoll, but neither I didn’t think it was tora”, explains this mountain expert.

Shortly after arriving home, the body reacted to the poison. “I noticed very strong cramps in my hands, pressure on my face and I fell to the ground. No muscle was responding, I started having arrhythmias and cardiac arrests. I lost consciousness. The last thing I remember are the Firemen’s boots. I was lucky that a doctor came who had already treated other cases of Aconitum ingestion,” he explains. From the Puigcerdà hospital he was transferred to the Vall d’Hebron hospital, where he spent three days in the hospital and two on the floor. “Fortunately I’m fine, I suffered some side effects, such as breaking three ribs due to the massages to treat cardiorespiratory arrest,” he explains.

Toni Elias points out that nothing was swallowed, that just passing Aconitum in the mouth was enough to trigger this terrible episode. “The blue tora grows everywhere, but there are no signs indicating the danger”, he laments.

In Catalonia, it reproduces abundantly in Cerdanya, Berguedà, Alta Ribagorça, Pallars, Ripollès, Val d’Aran or Garrotxa, says the FEEC.

“We are not used to species of such lethality, it is devastating, half an hour after eating it by mistake it already causes the first effects. A very serious French woman arrived at the hospital, with convulsions, delusions and very violent arrhythmias that caused 15 cardiac arrests”, explains Iñigo Soteras. Fortunately, Aconitium napellus poisoning was diagnosed in time and saved her life.