Atropa belladonna
Flowers June-Aug. Seed ripens Aug.-Oct.
Common Names / Habitat / Magickal Uses / Edible Uses / Medicinal Uses / Cultivation / Propagation

Common Names: Deadly Nightshade, Dwale, Nightshade, Deadly, Nwar Boton, banewort, witches berry, sorcerer's berry, death's herb, devil's cherries

Danger: The whole plant, and especially the root, is very poisonous. Even handling the plant has been known to cause problems if the person has cuts or grazes on the hand. The plant is particularly dangerous for children since the fruit looks attractive and has a sweet taste. The toxins are concentrated in the ripe fruit. See below.

Habitat: Woods, thickets and hedges, mainly on calcareous soils

Magickal Uses: *Poison* Feminine. Saturn. Water. Deities: Hecate, Bellona, Circe

Highly toxic. All parts of the plant are extremely poisonous. Encourages astral projection and produces visions, but belladonna is best avoided. A primary ingredient in flying ointments. Used in funeral rituals to aspurge the circle, helping the deceased to let go and move forward. Used to invoke Circe. Gather berries when they are ripe (around Samhain.) Store with onyx. Medicinally, it has been used as a sedative.

As every part of the plant is extremely poisonous, neither leaves, berries, nor root should be handled if there are any cuts or abrasions on the hands. The root is the most poisonous, the leaves and flowers less so, and the berries, except to children, least of all. It is said that an adult may eat two or three berries without injury, but dangerous symptoms appear if more are taken, and it is wiser not to attempt the experiment. Though so powerful in its action on the human body, the plant seems to affect some of the lower animals but little. Rabbits, sheep, goats and swine eat the leaves with impunity, and birds often eat the seeds without any apparent effect, but cats and dogs are very susceptible to the poison. -- Grieve's Modern Herbal

Edible Uses: NONE

Medicinal Uses: Analgesic; Antidote; Antispasmodic; Diuretic; Hallucinogenic; Homeopathy; Mydriatic; Narcotic; Sedative. Although it is poisonous, deadly nightshade has a long history of medicinal use and has a wide range of applications, in particular it is used to dilate the pupils in eye operations, to relieve intestinal colic and to treat peptic ulcers. The plant can be used to treat the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, reducing tremors and rigidity whilst improving speech and mobility. It has also been used as an antidote in cases of mushroom or toadstool poisoning. This is a very poisonous plant, it should be used with extreme caution and only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner.

All parts of the plant are analgesic, antidote, antispasmodic, diuretic, hallucinogenic, mydriatic, narcotic and sedative. The root is the most active part of the plant, it is harvested in the autumn and can be 1 - 3 years old, though the older roots are very large and difficult to dig up[4, 7]. The leaves are harvested in late spring and dried for later use. All parts of the plant contain tropane alkaloids. The leaves contain on average 0.4% active alkaloids, whilst the root contains around 0.6%. The alkaloid content also varies according to the development of the plant, being low when the plant is flowering and very high when bearing green berries. These alkaloids inhibit the parasympathetic nervous system which controls involuntary body activities. This reduces saliva, gastric, intestinal and bronchial secretions, as well as the activity of the urinary tubules, bladder and intestines. An extract of the plant has been used as eyedrops. It has the effect of dilating the pupils thus making it easier to perform eye operations. In the past women used to put the drops in their eyes in order to make them look larger and thus 'more beaufiful'. The entire plant, harvested when coming into flower, is used to make a homeopathic remedy. This is used especially in cases where there is localised and painful inflammation that radiates heat. It is also used to treat sunstroke and painful menstruation.

Cultivation: Succeeds in any well-drained moisture retentive soil in sun or partial shade. Prefers a calcareous soil. When grown as a medicinal plant, the highest levels of the medically active alkaloids are obtained from plants growing on a light, permeable chalky soil, especially when on a southwest facing slope. The highest concentrations are also formed when the plant is growing in a sunny position and in hot summers. The northerly limits of cultivation are about 50 - 55 north and at an altitude between 100 - 200 metres. This species is widely cultivated, especially in eastern Europe, for the medically active compounds it contains. These are used in the drugs industry to produce a range of medicines. Plants tend to be short-lived. Slugs are very fond of this plant and have been known to completely remove the outer bark from the stems.

Propagation: Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Germination of stored seed is slow and erratic, usually taking 1 - 6 months at 10c. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in the greenhouse for at least their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. Cuttings of softwood terminal shoots in spring. Root cuttings in winter.

From the 2000 Horizon Herbs catalog:

Extreme care. Soak seed for one day in water at room temperature, chill for 24 hours, then sow in the greenhouse. Very slow to germinate (beginning in two weeks, still more seeds germinating after six weeks), and slow-growing at first. Requires partial to full shade. Space plants 2 feet apart. Grows to 3 feet tall.

Mode of Poisoning: Ingestion.

Poisonous Part: All parts, mainly berries.

Symptoms: Fever, rapid pulse, dilation of pupils, hot and dry flushed skin, headache, dry mouth, difficulty of swallowing, burning of the throat, hallucinations, convulsions.

Toxic Principle: Tropane alkaloids, atropine and others.


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