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Deadly nightshade

Deadly nightshade

Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Atropa
Species: A. belladonna
Binomial name
Atropa belladonna

Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), also known as belladonna, dwale, Banewort, Devil's Cherries, Naughty Man's Cherries, Divale, Black Cherry, Devil's Herb, Great Morel, and Dwayberry, is a well-known perennial herbaceous plant, with leaves and berries that are highly toxic and hallucinogenic. It is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which it shares with potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, jimsonweed, tobacco, goji, and chili peppers. In addition, Solanum nigrum is also called Deadly nightshade.

The Belladonna is native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia, and has become naturalized in parts of North America. It is not nearly as common in the wild as many field guides would suggest. This is because it is readily attacked by mint flea beetles Longitarsus waterhousei and has a low tolerance for direct sunlight. In areas where it has become naturalized it can often be found in shady, moist areas with a limestone-rich soil.



  The Belladonna has dull green leaves and bell-shaped flowers that are an unremarkable shade of purple, which yield black, shiny berries measuring approximately 1 cm in diameter. The yellow form (Atropa belladonna var. lutea) has pale yellow flowers and fruit. The berries are sweet, but most of their alkaloids are in the seed. It is an herbaceous plant, and can grow to be approximately five metres tall. The leaves have an oily, "poison ivy"-like feel and can cause vesicular pustular eruptions if handled carelessly. Many animals, such as rabbits, birds and deer, seem to eat the plant without suffering harmful effects, though dogs and cats are affected.

When Belladonna is in its first stages of growing the star shaped base of the berries is barely visible.

Germination is often difficult due to the presence of germination inhibitors in the seeds. Belladonna is not common as a garden plant, and is considered a weed in some areas. Belladonna is a perennial branching herb growing to 5 metre tall, with 18 cm long ovate leaves. Belladonna contain the heaviest leaf in its angiosperm group. It is not a very hardy perennial and is sensitive to being transplanted. Germination requires several weeks in warm, moist, absolutely sterile soil, usually far from normal garden conditions.





Belladonna is one of the most toxic plants found in the Western hemisphere. Children have been poisoned by eating as few as three berries. Ingestion of a leaf of the Belladonna can be fatal to an adult. The root of the plant is generally the most toxic part, though this can vary from one specimen to another. See Harrison's Principle's of Internal Medicine. (11th edition, page 842: "Antimuscarinic Compounds: fatalities have occurred from as little as 10 mg atropine, but doses of 500 mg have been non-fatal.Young children are particularly susceptible to poisoning with belladonna alkaloids.")

All parts of the plant contain tropane alkaloids. The berries pose the greatest danger to children because they look attractive and have a somewhat sweet taste. Symptoms of belladonna poisoning are the same as those for atropine (a tropane alkaloid), and include dilated pupils, tachycardia, hallucinations, blurred vision, loss of balance, a feeling of flight, staggering, a sense of suffocation, paleness followed by a red rash, flushing, husky voice, extremely dry throat, constipation, urinary retention, and confusion. The skin can completely dry out and slough off. Fatal cases have a rapid pulse that turns feeble. The antidote is physostigmine or pilocarpine, the same as for atropine.

The reason for most of these symptoms is atropine's effect on the parasympathetic nervous system. Atropine competitively inhibits the action of acetylcholine (ACh) at the acetylcholine receptor in the nerve synapse, thereby preventing the parasympathetic nervous system from sending out electrical nerve impulses. Since the parasympathetic nervous system regulates non-volitional/subconscious activities (such as sweating, breathing, and heart rate) when it is prevented from sending out signals, the heartbeat and breathing become extremely irregular.

The Belladonna is toxic to many domestic animals and livestock; Belladonna poisoning can lead to colic, depression, weakness, and lack of coordination in horses, with fatalities reported even for small amounts from 1 to 10 pounds (0.5 to 5 kg).



The name belladonna originates from the historic use by women (Bella Donna is Italian for beautiful lady) to dilate their pupils; an extract of belladonna was used as eye drops as part of their makeup preparations. The Belladonna toxin's atropine content had the effect of dilating the pupil, thus making their eyes supposedly more attractive. It is now known that atropine has anticholinergic activity - by blocking the ability of the iris to constrict, mydriasis results. Dilated pupils are considered more attractive because pupils normally dilate when a person is aroused, thus making eye contact much more intense than it already is. It had the adverse effect of making their vision a little blurry and making their heart rates increase. Prolonged usage was reputed to cause blindness.

Modern medicine

The plant is an important source of atropine, which is an effective treatment for the effects of poisoning by cholinesterase inhibitors such as Parathion and Malathion. Atropine will also reverse the effects of poisoning by nerve agents designed for chemical warfare. In Europe, the plant is specifically cultivated for this purpose. While atropine can treat the symptoms of poisoning from these organophosphate compounds, the antidote is the unrelated compound pralidoxime.

Optometrists and ophthalmologists use atropine for pupil dilation in eye examinations, though the dose used is small. Atropine degrades slowly, typically wearing off in 2 to 3 days, so tropicamide and phenylephrine is generally preferred as a mydriatic. Atropine is contraindicated in patients predisposed to narrow angle glaucoma.

Belladonna (as Atropa Belladonna Extract) can also be found in some over-the-counter cold and flu medicines (in small amounts) due to its pseudoephedrine-like qualities of clearing up nasal and other passages where mucus forms.

Obsolete medicine

A mixture of Belladonna extract was used at one time in the detoxification of alcoholics. This so-called "Belladonna Therapy" is mentioned by Bill W. on page 7 of the Alcoholics Anonymous "Big Book," and is described in "AA - The Way It Began" by Bill Pittman, pages 164-166, 168):

"Briefly stated, it consists in the hourly dosage of a mixture of belladonna, hyoscyamus & xanthoxylum. The mixture is given every hour, day & night, for about 50 hours. There is also given about every 12 hours a vigorous catharsis of C.C. pills & blue mass. At the end of the treatment, when it is evident that there are abundant bilious stools, castor oil is given to clean out thoroughly the intestinal tract. If you leave any of the ingredients out, the reaction of the cessation of desire is not as clear cut as when the 3 are mixed together. The amount necessary to give is judged by the physiologic action of the belladonna it contains. When the face becomes flush, the throat dry, & the pupils of the eyes dilated, you must cut down your mixture or cease giving it altogether, until these symptoms pass. You must, however, push this mixture until these symptoms appear, or you will not obtain a clear cut cessation of the desire for the narcotic. The exact contents of each ingredient is below:

Belladonna Specific:

Tincture belladonnae (62. gm.)

Fluidextracti xanthoryli.

Fluidextracti hyoscyami (.31 gm.)

Belladona - Atropa belladonna Deadly nightshade; a perennial herb with dark purple flowers & black berries. Leaves & root contain atropine & related alkaloids which are anticholinergic. It is a powerful excitant of the brain with side effects of delirium (wild & talkative), decreased secretion, & diplopia.

Xanthoxylum - Xanthoxylum Americanum The dried bark or berries of prickly ash. Alkaloid of Hydrasts. Helps with chronic gastro-intestinal disturbances. Carminative & diaphoretic.

Hyoscyamus - Hyoskyamos Henbane, hog's bean, insane root from the leaves & flowers of Hyoscyamus Niger. Contains 2 alkaloids, hyoscyamine & hyoscine. Nervous system sedative, anticholinergic, & antispasmodic.

Close observation is necessary in treating the alcoholic in regard to the symptoms of the intoxication of belladonna, as alcoholics are sensitive to the effects of belladonna delirium. According to Lanbert, it is a less furious & less pugnacious delirium than that of alcohol. The patients are more persistent & more insistent in their ideas & more incisive in their speech concerning hallucinations. The hallucinations of alcohol are usually those of an occupation delirium; those of belladonna are not. The various hallucinations of alcohol follow each other so quickly that a man is busily occupied in observing them one after another. The belladonna delirium is apt to be confined to one or two ideas on which the patient is very insistent. If these symptoms of belladonna intoxication occur, of course, the specific must be discontinued; then beginning again with the original smaller dose. Towns believed the attending physician would find it most difficult to differentiate between alcoholic delirium & belladonna delirium. After this treatment, with its vigorous elimination, the patient would feel languid & relaxed, but the craving for alcohol would have ceased."

Alternative Medicine

Homeopathy uses Belladonna to treat a variety of afflictions, including sore throat, and conjunctivitis.[1]

Recreational drug

Occasionally, the plant is used for recreational purposes: it is consumed in the form of either a tea or simply raw, which can produce vivid hallucinations, described by many as a 'living dream'. Upon consumption of this plant, the user will experience all the severe, adverse anticholinergic effects before hallucinating and continue to do so while hallucinating. Use for recreational purposes is considered dangerous because of the risk of accidental overdose.

It has been suggested by Alexander Kuklin's book How Do Witches Fly? that the aconitine in aconite (another toxic hallucinogen) can counter/reduce the toxic effects of atropine in belladonna, while combining their hallucinogenic effects, and that this combination of belladonna and aconite was used by witches in the Middle Ages.


Stories claim that the devil has the exclusive rights to plant and harvest this plant. Hence, anyone eating it is visited and killed by the devil. Many also believed it was a temptation for greedy children as the berries seem to be offered on green, pentagram plates and look very appetizing.[citation needed]

Belladonna in the Media

Belladonna appears frequently in popular media, often by the name "Deadly Nightshade". For example, the 1998 fantasy movie "Practical Magic" had Sandra Bullock's character mixing it in a bottle of tequila to sedate the abusive boyfriend of Nicole Kidman's character, but an overdose kills him instead. The fictional character Sally in Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas uses Deadly Nightshade several times in the movie to get away from her master Doctor Finklestein. Belladonna features prominently in the 2007 movie Perfect Stranger starring Halle Berry and Bruce Willis. The character played by Nicki Aycox is killed by belladonna ingestion and is found to have had her pupils dilated with the substance.

In Louisa May Alcott's book "Little Women", the Beth is told by the doctor to take some belladonna after the Hummels' baby dies of Scarlet Fever.

In Hukkle (2002) an old woman in a small Hungarian village produces a belladonna concoction that she sells to women to kill off their unloved and unproductive husbands.

Author and Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson reports having undergone the "belladonna cure" while hospitalized for what would become his final encounter with alcohol in 1935.[2]

The British rock band Queen used the lyric "Well I've loved a million women In a belladonic haze" in their early song "Keep Yourself Alive"

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Deadly_nightshade". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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