Belladonna, commonly known as Deadly Nightshade, is a tall, branching plant in the Solanaceae family that can grow up to 5 feet in height. Atropa belladonna has purple bell-shaped flowers that are tinged with green. It has cherry-sized green berries that ripen to a dark purple or black. Yellow belladonna (Atropa belladonna var. lutea) is a rare pale-yellow flowering variety with pale-yellow fruit.
Botanical Name: Atropa belladonna
Common/Folk Names: Banewort, Black Cherry, Deadly Nightshade, Devil’s Cherries, Devil’s Herb, Divale, Dwale, Dwayberry, Great Morel, Love Apple, Naughty Man’s Cherries, Poison Black Cherry, Sorcerer’s Cherries, and Witch’s Berries.
Life Cycle: perennial
Habitat: woodlands in shady areas with moist soil
Blooms: midsummer through early fall
Smell: leaves have sharp, bitter unpleasant odor; berries smell similar to unripened tomatoes; flowers have no discernible scent
Taste: leaves and roots have a bitter taste, berries are somewhat sweet (Don’t taste it.)
- Belladonna is one of the most toxic plants found in the Eastern Hemisphere. All parts of the plant contain tropane alkaloids. The root of the plant is generally the most toxic. Ingestion of two berries can be fatal to an adult, and ingestion of a single leaf can be fatal to an adult.
- The plant also contains hyoscyamine and atropine.
- Atropa belladonna is toxic to many domestic animals, causing narcosis and paralysis.
- Woody nightshade is not the same thing as deadly nightshade.
- Symptoms of belladonna poisoning may be slow to appear but last for several days. They include dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, tachycardia, loss of balance, staggering, headache, rash, flushing, severe dry mouth and throat, slurred speech, urinary retention, constipation, confusion, hallucinations, delirium, and convulsions.
- The common name belladonna originates from its historical use. Bella Donna is Italian for beautiful lady. Drops prepared from the belladonna plant were used to dilate women’s pupils. The drops blocked receptors in the eye’s muscles that constrict pupil size. The effect was considered to be attractive and seductive. Prolonged use caused blindness.
- Belladonna is believed to have been the plant that poisoned Marcus Antonius’ troops during the Parthian Wars.
- The Romans used belladonna as a poison (the wife of Emperor Augustus and the wife of Claudius both were rumored to have used it for murder), and it was commonly used to make poison tipped arrows.
- In 1868, Marie Jeanneret, a Swiss nurse, was convicted of murdering seven patients by belladonna poisoning.
- In the 1990s, a nine-year-old Danish boy ate between twenty and twenty-five berries and survived.
- Named for Atropos, one of the Three Fates, who held the shears that cut the thread of life.
- Witches were believed to mix belladonna, opium poppy, and other plants (typically poisonous ones such as monkshood and poison hemlock) to create an ointment that helped them fly. Some suggest that this combination brought on hallucinations and a dreamlike state that would certainly make them think they were flying.
- The devil tends to the plant nightly, except on Walpurgis, when he is prepares for the witches’ sabbath.
- Priests of Bellona (Ancient Roman Goddess of War) were believed to drink an infusion of belladonna before worshiping and invoking her aid.
- Spells and rituals use belladonna in baneful magic (harmful magic), astral projection/traveling, vision quests, and crone magic (old/wise magic).
In the Language of Flowers, it means: silence
This is a reference for fiction writers and should not be taken as medical or spiritual advice.
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham
Folklore and Symbolism of Flower, Plants and Trees by Ernst and Johanna Lehner
image by Donald Macauley, Wikipedia.org
series logo image by openclipart.org, awesome colorization by me!