Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade)

Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade

The name “belladonna” means “beautiful lady,” and was chosen because of a practice in Italy where by berry juice was used to enlarge the pupils of women, giving them a striking appearance. This was not a good idea, because belladonna can be poisonous. Though widely distributed over Central and Southern Europe, the plant is not common in England, and has become rarer. It has been sparingly found in twenty-eight British counties, mostly in waste places, quarries and near old ruins. Under the shade of trees, on wooded hills, on chalk or limestone, it will grow luxuriantly, forming bushy plants several feet high, but specimens growing in places exposed to the sun are apt to be dwarfed, consequently it rarely attains such a large size when cultivated in the open, and is more subject to the attacks of insects than when growing wild under natural conditions.

Description The plant itself has a thick, fleshy root, dark green leaves, and shiny black berries that resemble cherries. Nightshade naturally contains an alkaloid (atropine) that can be toxic in even small doses. Interestingly, the root is the most poisonous of all the parts of the plant. There have been numerous reports throughout the years of children eating the tasty-looking berries and experiencing Belladonna poisoning, which can be fatal.

Folklore; There is a German legend that the plant belongs to the Devil himself, and that he goes about tending it all year long – except for on Walpurgisnacht, when he is preparing for the witches’ sabbat. The plant also appears in Scottish history – it is said that MacBeth’s soldiers managed to poison an entire army of Danes by mixing Belladonna into liquor that was offered during a truce. Once the Danes fell into “a deep slumber,” they were murdered by Scottish troops. From a magical perspective, it is believed that nightshade was used as one of the ingredients in “flying ointment” used by witches of the past. It is also associated with hallucinations and psychic exploration. Because of the dangerous properties of this plant, it is generally recommended that modern practitioners avoid its use.

Medicinal – Although most certainly not to be tried at home Atropine can be extracted from the Nightshade plant, and is often used in a medical setting. It has been included in treatments of eye disease, and is a natural sedative and narcotic. Though widely regarded as unsafe, belladonna is used as a sedative, to stop bronchial spasms in asthma and whooping cough, and as a cold and hay fever remedy. It is also used for Parkinson’s disease, colic, motion sickness, and as a painkiller. Belladonna is used in ointments that are applied to the skin for joint pain(rheumatism), leg pain caused by a disc in the backbone pushing on the sciatic nerve(sciatica), and nerve pain (neuralgia). Belladonna is also used in plasters (medicine-filled gauze applied to the skin) for treating psychiatric disorders, a behaviour disorder called hyperkinesias, excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), and bronchial asthma. It is poisonous so do not attempt to use Belladonna at home – however it is an extremely useful little plant as you can see – in the right hands.

Reference; Culpeper, Botanical.Com, Web MD, Paul Beyerl – Modern Herbalist.

Image; Circe Individiosa – Waterhouse

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