Mother Earth Living

Natural Health

Better living through nature

Add to My MSN

Deadly Nightshade: The Wicked Belladonna

8/8/2011 4:27:55 PM

Tags:

S.McCabeDeadly nightshade, devil’s berries, death cherries, dwale. No matter what name it goes by, beladonna (Atropa belladonna) is one of the most poisonous herbs in the world. From suicide to murder, belladonna has been a favorite tool for centuries to bring about a quick (and unpleasant) death.

Lethally beautiful, belladonna is an annual plant that grows about 2 to 4 feet high with dark green leaves and inky purple flowers. It is found across Europe, Asia, and North America, usually thriving in damp and shady spots. The entire plant, from its roots to its stems, is incredibly toxic. Just brushing up against the plant is enough to give you pustules, and the black, intensely sweet berries themselves are enough to tempt anyone to try a very regretful bite. 

8-8-11 nightshade
These sinister-looking flowers can bring on hallucinations and death if consumed.
Photo by Barry Cornelius/Courtesy
Flickr 

Belladonna’s wicked magic comes from an alkaloid called atropine. The name atropine derives from Atropos, one of the Three Fates of the Underworld in ancient Greece who determined human destiny. At Atropos’ whim, she would cut the thread of life and kill a mortal in the world above. Fitting, because this chemical causes a quickening of the pulse, confusion, seizures, hallucinations and even death when consumed. In fact, the symptoms of atropine are so horrid that it is often added to addictive painkillers to keep people from getting dependent. Belladonna has been used as a recreational drug, as well. The trip is said to start out pleasurable but soon turn rough and frightening, often ending in permanent blindness, brain damage, and even death. The root is the most poisonous part of the plant, followed by the leaves and then the fruit. However, just because the fruit is the least toxic part of the plant, even two berries are enough to kill a child.

The name belladonna (Italian for beautiful lady) is believed to originate from the Renaissance period. The plant contains a muscle relaxant that, when used on the eye, dilutes the pupils. Roman women would use a tincture containing diluted belladonna as eye drops to dilate their pupils in order to make them appear more sexually aroused.

Throughout the 16th and 17th century witch trials, it was recorded that witches would use belladonna, opium poppy and other poisonous plants to make a mysterious “flying ointment.” When they were supposed to meet for a gathering of their coven, witches would supposedly smear this ointment on their bodies and brooms, allowing them to fly.

Belladonna still has its uses today. It is often found in sleeping pills, asthma drugs and muscle reactants before surgery. Belladonna has the ability to dry up bodily fluids such as sweat and mucous. Some homeopathic remedies are even made by heavily diluting the poison to treat the cold, earaches, fever, cramps, toothaches, headaches, sore throats and even boils. However, it is important to note that you should never take belladonna on your own unless you have direct instructions from a qualified doctor, or the next thing you know, you could be lured into its fatal embrace.

Read More: Wicked Plants, by Amy Stewart



Related Content

The Path to Herbalism

The art of healing our bodies with herbs is a new fascination in Erin McIntosh's life. Learn more ab...

In the News: Hemlock Water Dropwort Useful for Botox?

Could a poisonous plant used by ancient colonizers to hurt be used by modern dermatologists to help?

The Dangers of Over-the-Counter Painkillers

Conventional over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen, aspirin and acetaminophen carry risks such...

DIY: Create a Plant Herbarium

Plant herbariums collect herbal memories all summer long.

Content Tools




Post a comment below.

 



Subscribe today and save 58%

First Name: *
Last Name: *
Address: *
City: *
State/Province: *
Zip/Postal Code:*
Country:
Email:*
(* indicates a required item)
Canadian subs: 1 year, (includes postage & GST). Foreign subs: 1 year, . U.S. funds.
Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
Non US and Canadian Subscribers - Click Here

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living!

Welcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $14.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $19.95.