Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Atropa belladonna - Deadly Nightshade

Atropa belladonna - Deadly Nightshade, Herb of the Beautiful Lady, Herba belladonna, Dwale, Black Cherry, Strygium, Strychnon, Devil's Berries, Devil's Cherries, Devil's Herb, Divale, Dwayberry, Great Morel, Naughty Man's Cherries, Death Cherries.

CAUTION: Berries extremely TOXIC. Only 4 berries are needed to produce toxic results in adults.  These are dangerously attractive to children and occasionally pets. A DOSE of from 1 teaspoon to 3 tablespoons can be fatal for adults; much smaller doses are fatal in children; death usually results from asphyxiation.

SYMPTOMS of Belladonna POISONING appear within 15 minutes: red skin, dry mouth, burning throat, dilated pupils, intense thirst, overheating due to decreased perspiration, double vision or inability to focus, difficulty urinating, over excitement and symptoms of restlessness, hallucinations, delirium, manic attacks followed by exhaustion and sleep, giddiness, burning in stomach, nausea, rambling talk, abnormally fast heartbeat, feeble rapid pulse, muscular tremors or rigidity, severe or persistent constipation.

DO NOT TOUCH the plant if cuts and abrasions are present on the skin. The plant's chemicals are absorbed through the skin! 

If poisoned SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP! Antidote for Belladonna is Physostigmine salicylate (MEDICAL EXPERTS ONLY!!). To counteract fresh poisoning, emetics (a substance that induces vomiting) are administered.  Belladonna can also increase the effects of prescription drugs such as Amantadine (Symmetrel), Quinidine (Quinaglute, Quinidex), and Tricyclic anti-depressants like Elavil, Pamelor, and Tofranil.

Acetylcholine is one of the nervous system's chief chemicals. Belladonna interferes with its action, acting mainly on the heart muscle and the smooth muscle in the digestive tract. Also has a drying effect and in large doses can affect the brain, resulting in over excitement and hallucinations. Taken internally it induces sleep, loss of voice, fevers and racing pulse. The sap of the plant can cause dermatitis. Handling the berries can cause eruptions on the face and visual impairment. People have reportedly died after dining on birds and rabbits which have fed on the berries.

There is currently insufficient scientific evidence to recommend the use of Atropa belladonna in its natural form for any condition, although some of its components, in particular l-atropine which was purified from belladonna in the 1830s, have accepted medical uses.

Atropa belladonna, along with related plants such as jimson weed (Datura stramonium), have occasionally been used as a recreational drug because of the vivid hallucinations and delirium that it produces. These hallucinations are most commonly described as very unpleasant, however, and recreational use is considered extremely dangerous because of the high risk of unintentional fatal overdose. In addition, the central nervous system effects of atropine include memory disruption, which may lead to severe confusion.

The common name Belladonna originates from its historic use by women - Bella Donna is Italian for beautiful lady. Drops prepared from the belladonna plant were used to dilate women's pupils, an effect considered attractive. Belladonna drops act as an antimuscarinic, blocking receptors in the muscles of the eye that constrict pupil size. Belladonna is currently rarely used cosmetically, as it carries the adverse effects of causing minor visual distortions, inability to focus on near objects, and increased heart rate. Prolonged usage was reputed to cause blindness.

The tropane alkaloids of A. belladonna were used as poisons and early humans made poisonous arrows from the plant. In ancient Rome it was used as a poison by Agrippina the Younger, wife of Emperor Claudius, and Livia, who is rumored to have used it to kill her husband Emperor Augustus.

In the past, it was believed that witches used a mixture of Belladonna, opium poppy,and other poisonous plants(monkshood and poison hemlock) in flying ointments they applied to help them fly to gatherings with other witches.

Carlo Ginzburg and others have argued that flying ointments were preparations meant to encourage hallucinatory dreaming; a possible explanation for the inclusion of Belladonna and opium poppy in flying ointments concerns the known antagonism between tropane alkaloids of belladonna (specifically scopolamine) and opiate alkaloids in Papaver somniferum (morphine), which produces a dream-like waking state. This antagonism was known in folk medicine, discussed in eclectic (botanical) medicine formularies, and posited as the explanation of how flying ointments might have actually worked in contemporary writing on witchcraft.

The antagonism between opiates and tropanes is the original basis of the Twilight Sleep that was provided to Queen Victoria to deaden pain as well as consciousness during childbirth, and which was later modified so that isolated alkaloids were used instead of plant materials. The belladonna herb was also notable for its unpredictable effects from toxicity.

Propagation should be conducted by commercial growers only. This plant is not recommended for home gardens or use. Do not grow where children and pets have access to the plants!  USE GLOVES AT ALL TIMES when handling any poisonous plants.

Seed germinates in 12 to 24 days (some sources say 4 to 6 weeks); germination can be improved by soaking seed in boiling water or baking in an oven to destroy embryos of pests.

(You should not use any equipment or utensils with this or other poisonous plants that you would also use for cooking or any other personal use. Any other materials or liquids used with poisonous plants should be treated as hazardous and disposed of properly. When disposing of liquids used with any poisonous plants use utility drains, NOT kitchen or bathroom drains.)

Plant out 18 to 20 inches apart in 70°F soil which is deep, moisture retentive, but with good drainage. pH should be 4.5 to 7.5 in full sun or part shade. Also propagated by ROOT DIVISION. For more specific information on cultivation see: "A Modern Herbal" by Maude Grieve, Dover Publications, page 587 of Volume 2. The information is dated, but still useful if current information is lacking.


brandonlinn said...

I'm a very experienced gardener and have grown her and her sisters Tomates, Mandrake, and bitter sweet in my garden.
Do Not Boil Or Bake her seeds.
Soak them for 2 weeks in a pill bottle changing the water daily,
this leeches out the anti-germination chemicals.
The alkaloids present in the water from the 5 or 10 seeds is negligible at best.

TD said...

Im trying to grow atropa belladonna. What am i doing wrong? Can you provide step by step day by day instructions?

Nikki said...

Hi. I've tried and failed a few times, but this time I bought seeds and used Ga3 (gibberellic acid) to germinate them. It's worked and I now have 8 tiny seedlings appeared so far!!!
You can buy Ga3 on the internet pretty easily. Just follow the instructions.
Hope this helps

herb guy said...

As already mentioned do NOT boil or bake seeds, that will kill them for sure. Rather Atropa belladonna is sown in the Fall or early Spring in the garden for natural cold stratification. This can be simulated by refrigeration for 30 days. I use a fine seeding mix, dampen with Comfrey FPJ (fremented plant juice) similiar to Nikki's recommendation as it contains gibberellic acid, tamp the seeds lightly, place in a marked paper bag and placed in the the back of a fridge - this all in a small yogurt cup. Dark, cold, for 30 days. FPJ or GA stimulates germination and improves rates greatly. I get 90-100%. After 30 days cold, they take about 24 additional days to emerge. The lethality is largely overhyped. A toxicity warning should be enough for any normal adult and children should be prevented from access to it.

rui zhou said...

This plant is all over the back yard. I finally figured out what it was. Oh joy it is poisonous.

Anonymous said...

I have dry berries from the belladonna can you grow the plant by using the dry berries?