Woman Dies After Drinking Tea Bought In San Francisco

A California woman died after purchasing tea from an herbalist in San Francisco's Chinatown that contained a lethal poison.

In February, the unnamed woman in her 50s, became sick within an hour after consuming the tea, Rachael Kagan, a spokeswoman for the San Francisco Department of Public Health, said, according to the Los Angeles Times. She immediately developed weakness and abnormal heart rhythms, requiring resuscitation. 

For weeks, the woman was hospitalized. She died on March 18, Kagan said.

A man in his 30s had the same ill side effects after drinking the tea. He was critically ill and hospitalized, but has since recovered and was released from the hospital on March 12, according to Kagan.

The tea leaves were purchased as Sun Wing Wo Trading Company in Chinatown, the health department noted. The victims bought different blends of medicinal teas that were mixed at the store with several ingredients.

Laboratory tests on the patients and tea samples found that both had a plant-based toxin, aconite, also known as Wolf's bane. The ingredients in the patents' tea blends are being tested by health officials.

Aconite is an extremely toxic wild plant, according to the Journal of Clinical Toxicology. Severe poisoning can occur after ingesting aconite or consuming an herbal decoction made from its roots.

The journal notes that, in traditional Chinese medicine, aconite roots are only used after processing, such as soaking and boiling, to reduce the toxic alkaloid content. If the plant is not processed correctly or a larger than recommended dose is given, a risk of poisoning occurs. Aconite poisoning symptoms consist of a combination of neurological, cardiovascular, and gastrointestinal features. Some symptoms are: paresthesia and numbness of face or limbs, muscle weakness, hypotension, chest pain, palpitations, ventricular tachycardia, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain.

Aconite toxins attack the heart and can be lethal, Dr. Tomas Aragon, health officer for the city and country of San Francisco, said in a statement obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

Aconite is used in herbal medicine to treat bruises, pain, and other conditions.

The owner of Sun Wing Wo Trading Company is working with the health department to locate the source of the toxin. All of the leaves the patients' consumed have been removed from the shop by environmental health inspectors.

It is unknown how the poisonous plant found its way into the tea leaves.

"We don't know what happened," Kagan said. "Something went wrong in this case."

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Journal of Clinical Toxicology via NCBI / Photo credit: Kai Chan Vong/Flickr

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