Atropa belladonna, commonly known as the Deadly Nightshade, is a species of nightshade in the Solanaceae family. Its leaves and berries are highly toxic.
The plant can be toxic when ingested, with tropane alkaloids such as atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine causing hallucinations and delirium. They are also used in anticholinergic medicines to combat hyperactivity.
Belladonna (Atropa belladonna) is a tall plant in the nightshade family (Solanaceae). It’s native to central and southern Europe but has since naturalized throughout North Africa, Asia, and parts of North America.
This plant can grow up to 1.5 metres (4.5 feet) high and features dull green leaves, violet or greenish flowers in the leaf axils or on branch forks, sweet shiny black berries about the size of cherries, and a large tapering root. Unfortunately, this plant is highly toxic when ingested and may lead to serious health problems if consumed in large amounts.
Atropa belladonna is a member of the nightshade family, which also includes tomatoes, eggplants, jimsonweed, tobacco and chili peppers. It has long been used as a medicinal plant; today it can still be found in Parkison patents as an anticholinergic for sleep disorders, asthma, chronic bronchitis or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) among other respiratory issues.
The name “belladonna” derives from Italian for “beautiful woman,” and it was once believed to be used as a beauty tonic. Drops made from the plant were believed to dilate women’s pupils, creating an effect considered attractive and seductive at the time.
This plant is now mostly known for its toxic fruits and roots, but it was once widely grown as a garden herb. Although it can be kept indoors as a houseplant, it requires plenty of sun and well-drained soil. Unfortunately, planting this species in a greenhouse will likely result in poorer fruit or roots than if grown outdoors.
Nightshade berries contain several toxic compounds, including scopolamine and hyoscyamine. When combined with atropine, these alkaloids cause an anticholinergic response characterized by dilation of pupils, difficulty seeing, and other signs of poisoning.
Poisoning from Atropa belladonna berry can be a fatal condition, leading to dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, heart arrhythmia or tachycardia, headache, rash or flushing; dry mouth with slurred speech or urinary retention; confusion hallucinations agitated delirium convulsions or even coma.
No way to prevent nightshade toxicity, but steps can be taken to minimize its symptoms. In case of an incident, patients should receive immediate treatment with anticholinergics such as physostigmine or pilocarpine for relief from any symptoms that arise.
Medical Uses of Atropa belladonna
The alkaloids found in deadly nightshade have been used since antiquity for their anticholinergic effects. Nowadays, they can also be found as active ingredients in prescription drugs to treat conditions such as anxiety, asthma and chronic bronchitis.
Belladonna has long been used by both men and women as a drug in both medicine and magic. Its effects could range from dilation of women’s pupils to make them more sexually appealing, to dilation of witches’ eyes to enable them to see spirits, to acting as an antidote against toxic gas during World War II.
Belladonna’s anticholinergic properties have made it a widely used ingredient in cosmetics and soaps. These cosmetics and shampoos have been known to dilate the pupils of women, improving their looks by stimulating blood flow.