Belladonna - Atropa belladonna

Belladonna

Atropa belladonna

It has got this specific name belladonna, which is Italian for beautiful lady, due to its dilating effect on the iris. It has a reputation as poison due to its toxic alkaloids which cause a reduction in parasympathetic activation of cardiac and smooth muscles, resulting in sedation.

  • Plant type: Perennial
  • Other names: Deadly nightshade, Devil’s cherry, Devil’s berry, Banewort
  • Medicinal: No
  • Culinary: No
  • Ceremonial: No
  • Parts Used: Leaves, Flowers, Berries
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About Belladonna

*This plant is TOXIC* 

Atropa belladonna is a toxic herbaceous perennial that appears as a medium-sized bushy shrub. It is endemic in the Mediterranean region, western Europe, the Himalayas, and North America. It is commonly known to the globe as the ‘deadly nightshade’. It can reach up to a height of 5 feet, adorned with dark-green oval-shaped leaves and greenish-purple flowers that transform into purplish-black berries. 


It has got this specific name belladonna, which is Italian for beautiful lady, due to its dilating effect on the iris. It has a reputation as poison due to its toxic alkaloids which cause a reduction in parasympathetic activation of cardiac and smooth muscles, resulting in sedation. Atropa crosses the blood-brain barrier and causes ataxia, short-term memory loss, disorientation, coma, and even death. During the Middle ages, it was used as an anesthetic during surgeries but its detrimental side effects caused it to get suspended.


Apart from its disastrous toxic effects, its tincture is still used as an aid to treat bronchospasms, arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, hemorrhoids, colic, nerve-related disorders, irritable bowel syndrome, motion sickness, and cold symptoms.

 

Growing

Belladonna seeds require stratification before seeing the garden beds. Mix them in slightly moistened soil in a ziplock bag and refrigerate, not freeze, for at least 4 weeks. Broadcast them in either early spring or during fall for better yield and do not cover them with soil as they require sunlight to germinate. 

As the whole plant of belladonna is extremely poisonous, it is recommended to contain it indoors and not in gardens, especially away from the reach of children.

Belladonna is a perennial that takes around 100-200 days to germinate after pre-treatment. Its growth process is pretty slow and sporadic. Once it establishes a bit with its dark green leaves, it begins to give greenish-purple blossoms from midsummer till early fall.

Despite its toxicity, it is visited by bumblebees, bees, and butterflies for carrying out the process of pollination. After fertilization, dark berries are produced, which are again extremely toxic, bearing seeds that can be used further for the continuation of their life cycle.   

Harvesting

Belladonna is available for the first harvest of leaves three months after its plantation. Its flowers and berries are harvested during their respective appearance phases

Belladonna leaves, flowers and berries are harvested with gardening shears while properly covering yourself in full pants, a long-sleeved shirt, gloves, and goggles.

Belladonna leaves, flowers and berries can be dried in a well-ventilated room, away from direct sunlight, and can be stored in an airtight container for later use.

 

Usage

Despite its toxic profile, its rare benefits compel traditional herbalists to make herbal preparations using belladonna.

  • Tincture: Dried belladonna leaves are macerated in grain alcohol for 4 to 6 weeks to formulate their tincture.
  • Tea: Chopped belladonna leaves (fresh or dried) can be steeped in hot water for not more than 5 minutes to form its tea. [1 teaspoon of chopped leaf in one pint of water]
  • Decoction: 1 teaspoon of belladonna leaves is decocted on low flame with one pint of water until the volume decreases to half of the original quantity.
  • Salve: A few drops of belladonna-infused oil are stirred in melted beeswax to form a hallucinogenic salve that must be used cautiously.
  • Infused oil: Dried belladonna leaves are infused in olive oil using a double boiler to form belladonna-infused oil. 

This plant is TOXIC but folks have found working with it in small increments has been helpful. Please always use with caution.