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Atropa belladonna, commonly known as belladonna or deadly nightshade, is a toxic perennial herbaceous plant in the nightshade family Solanaceae,[1] which also includes tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplant (aubergine). It is native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. Its distribution extends from Ireland in the west to western Ukraine and the Iranian province of Gilan in the east. It is also naturalised or introduced in some parts of Canada and the United States.


The use of deadly nightshades as a poison was known in ancient Rome, as attested by the rumour that the Roman empress Livia Drusilla used the juice of Atropa belladonna berries to murder her husband, the emperor Augustus.[12]

Atropa belladonna is a branching herbaceous perennial rhizomatous hemicryptophyte, often growing as a subshrub from a fleshy rootstock. Plants can reach a height of 2 m (7 ft) (more commonly 1.5 m (5 ft)), and have ovate leaves up to 18 cm (7 in) long. The bell-shaped flowers are dull purple tinged yellow-green toward the base and are faintly scented. The fruits are berries, which are green, ripening to a shiny black, and approximately 1.5 cm (0.6 in) in diameter. The berries are sweet and are consumed by animals that disperse the seeds in their droppings, even though they contain toxic alkaloids (see Toxicity).[17] There is a pale-yellow flowering form called Atropa belladonna var. lutea with pale yellow fruit.

A. belladonna is sometimes confused with the much less poisonous black nightshade, Solanum nigrum, belonging to a different genus within Solanaceae.[18] A comparison of the fruit shows that black nightshade berries are spherical, have a dull lustre and grow in clusters, whereas the berries of deadly nightshade are much glossier, twice as large, somewhat flattened and are borne singly. Another distinction is that black nightshade flowers are not tubular but white and star-shaped, bearing a central cone of yellow anthers.

Atropa belladonna is native to temperate southern, Central and Eastern Europe; North Africa, Turkey, Iran and the Caucasus, but has been cultivated and introduced outside its native range. In southern Sweden it was recorded in Flora of Skåne in 1870 as grown in apothecary gardens near Malmö.[19]

Atropa belladonna is rarely used in gardens, but, when grown, it is usually for its large upright habit and showy berries.[23]Germination of the small seeds is often difficult, due to hard seed coats that cause seed dormancy. Germination takes several weeks under alternating temperature conditions, but can be sped up with the use of gibberellic acid.[24] The seedlings need sterile soil to prevent damping off and resent root disturbance during transplanting.[citation needed]

Atropa belladonna is in the nightshade family (Solanaceae), which it shares with potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, jimsonweed, tobacco, wolfberry, and chili peppers. The common names for this species include belladonna, deadly nightshade, divale, dwale,[25] banewort, devil's berries, death cherries, beautiful death, devil's herb, great morel, and dwayberry.[26]

The active agents in belladonna, atropine, hyoscine (scopolamine), and hyoscyamine, have anticholinergic properties.[3][39][40] The symptoms of belladonna poisoning include dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, tachycardia, loss of balance, staggering, headache, rash, flushing, severely dry mouth and throat, slurred speech, urinary retention, constipation, confusion, hallucinations, delirium, and convulsions.[3][31][41][42][43] In 2009, A. belladonna berries were mistaken for blueberries by an adult woman; the six berries she ate were documented to result in severe anticholinergic syndrome.[44] The plant's deadly symptoms are caused by atropine's disruption of the parasympathetic nervous system's ability to regulate involuntary activities, such as sweating, breathing, and heart rate. The antidote for belladonna poisoning is an anticholinesterase (such as physostigmine) or a cholinomimetic (such as pilocarpine), the same as for atropine.[45]

Atropa belladonna is also toxic to many domestic animals, causing narcosis and paralysis.[46] However, cattle and rabbits eat the plant seemingly without suffering harmful effects.[42] In humans, its anticholinergic properties will cause the disruption of cognitive capacities, such as memory and learning.[39]

Belladonna cultivation is legal in Southern and Eastern Europe, Pakistan, North America, and Brazil.[35] Belladonna leaves and roots can be bought with a medical prescription in pharmacies throughout Germany.[47] In the United States, there is only one approved prescription drug containing belladonna alkaloids such as atropine, and the FDA regards any over-the-counter products claiming efficacy and safety as an anticholinergic drug, to be illegal.[48]

The common name belladonna originates from its historic use by women, as bella donna is Italian for "beautiful woman". Drops prepared from the belladonna plant were used to dilate women's pupils, an effect considered to be attractive and seductive.[10][11][8] Belladonna drops act as a muscarinic antagonist, blocking receptors in the muscles of the eye that constrict pupil size.[49] 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.[50]

In the United States, belladonna is marketed as a dietary supplement, typically as an atropine ingredient in over-the-counter cold medicine products.[31][48] Although such cold medicine products are probably safe for oral use at typical atropine dosages (0.2 milligram), there is inadequate scientific evidence to assure their effectiveness.[48] By FDA guidelines for supplements, there are no regulated manufacturing standards for cold medicines containing atropine, with some belladona supplements found to contain contaminants.[31]

Scientific evidence to recommend the use of A. belladonna in its natural form for any condition is insufficient,[2][3][31] although some of its components, in particular l-atropine, which was purified from belladonna in the 1830s, have accepted medical uses.[42] Donnatal is a prescription pharmaceutical, that combines natural belladonna alkaloids in a specific, fixed ratio with phenobarbital to provide peripheral anticholinergic or antispasmodic action and mild sedation.[51] Donnatal contains 0.0194 mg of atropine.[51] According to the FDA and Donnatal labeling, it is possibly effective for use as adjunctive therapy in the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (irritable colon, spastic colon, mucous colitis) and acute enterocolitis.[51][52] Donnatal is not approved by the FDA as being either safe or effective.[51] According to the FDA, Donnatal use has significant risks: it can cause harm to a fetus if administered to a pregnant woman, can lead to heat prostration if used in hot climates, may cause constipation, and may produce drowsiness or blurred vision.[51]

At least one 19th-century eclectic medicine journal explained how to prepare a belladonna tincture for direct administration.[56] In homeopathic practices, belladonna was prescribed by German physician Samuel Hahnemann as a topical medication for inflammation and pain.[2] In the form of Doktor Koster's Antigaspills, belladonna was a homeopathic medication for upset stomach and excessive flatulence.[57] There is insufficient scientific evidence justifying the use of belladonna for these or any other clinical disorders.[2]

In 2010 and 2016, the US Food and Drug Administration warned consumers against the use of homeopathic teething tablets and gels containing belladonna as used for infants and children, stating that the products may be toxic, causing "seizures, difficulty breathing, lethargy, excessive sleepiness, muscle weakness, skin flushing, constipation, difficulty urinating, or agitation".[58][59]

Atropa belladonna and related plants, such as Datura stramonium (commonly known as jimson weed), have occasionally been used as recreational drugs because of the vivid hallucinations and delirium they produce.[60] These hallucinations are most commonly described as very unpleasant, and recreational use is considered extremely dangerous because of the high risk of unintentional fatal overdose.[61][62][63][64][8] The main psychoactive ingredients are the alkaloids scopolamine and, to a lesser extent, hyoscyamine.[65] The effects of atropine on the central nervous system include memory disruption, which may lead to severe confusion.[66] The major effects of belladonna consumption last for three to four hours; visual hallucinations can last for three to four days, and some negative aftereffects are preserved for several days.[35]

The tropane alkaloids of A. belladonna were used as poisons, and early humans made poisonous arrows from the plant.[67][8] In Ancient Rome, it was used as a poison by Agrippina the Younger, wife of Emperor Claudius, on the advice of Locusta, a woman who specialized in poisons, and Livia, who is rumored to have used it to kill her husband Emperor Augustus.[67][68]

In the past, witches were believed to use a mixture of belladonna, opium poppy and other plants, typically poisonous (such as monkshood and hemlock), in flying ointment, which they allegedly applied to help them fly to gatherings with other witches or to experience bacchanalian carousal.[70][8] 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 (scopolamine) and opiate alkaloids in the opium poppy, Papaver somniferum (to be specific, morphine), which produces a dream-like waking state (hypnagogia) or potentiated dreams while the user is asleep. This antagonism was known in folk medicine and discussed in traditional medicine formularies.[71][72] Belladonna is also notable for the unpredictability of its toxic effects.[73][74] 041b061a72


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