- What is belladonna?
- Important Information
- Before taking this medicine
- How should I take belladonna?
- What happens if I miss a dose?
- What happens if I overdose?
- What should I avoid while taking belladonna?
- Belladonna side effects
- What other drugs will affect belladonna?
- Further information
- More about belladonna
- British Homeopathic Association
- What Is Belladonna?
- Medicinal Uses of Belladonna
- Toxicity, Safety & Side Effects
- Clinical Trials
- Nightshade, Deadly
Generic Name: belladonna (bell ah DON ah)
Brand Name: Belladonna Tincture, Belladonna Leaf
Medically reviewed by Drugs.com on Mar 8, 2019 – Written by Cerner Multum
- Side Effects
What is belladonna?
Belladonna is a plant also known as Atropa belladonna, Atropa acuminata, Baccifère, Belle-Dame, Belle-Galante, Bouton Noir, Cerise du Diable, Deadly Nightshade, Devil’s Cherries, Devil’s Herb, Divale, Dwale, Dwayberry, Grande Morelle, Guigne de la Côte, Herbe à la Mort, Herbe du Diable, Morelle Furieuse, Naughty Man’s Cherries, Poison Black Cherries, Suchi, and other names.
Belladonna has been used in alternative medicine as an aid in treating arthritis pain, colds or hay fever, bronchospasms caused by asthma or whooping cough, hemorrhoids, nerve problems, Parkinson’s disease, colic, irritable bowel syndrome, and motion sickness.
It is not certain whether belladonna is effective in treating any medical condition, and belladonna can be toxic. Medicinal use of this product has not been approved by the FDA. Belladonna should not be used in place of medication prescribed for you by your doctor.
Belladonna is often sold as an herbal supplement. There are no regulated manufacturing standards in place for many herbal compounds and some marketed supplements have been found to be contaminated with toxic metals or other drugs. Herbal/health supplements should be purchased from a reliable source to minimize the risk of contamination.
Belladonna may also be used for purposes not listed in this product guide.
Follow all directions on the product label and package. Tell each of your healthcare providers about all your medical conditions, allergies, and all medicines you use.
Before taking this medicine
You should not use belladonna if you are allergic to it, or if you have:
a bladder obstruction, enlarged prostate, or other urination problems;
a stomach or bowel obstruction (including paralytic ileus);
severe ulcerative colitis or toxic megacolon;
chronic constipation or lack of bowel function (especially in older adults and those who are ill or debilitated);
heart problems, especially when caused by a thyroid disorder; or
active bleeding with fast heartbeats, low blood pressure, shortness of breath, and cold hands or feet.
Do not give belladonna to a child without medical advice. Belladonna can cause serious side effects in babies or young children, including constipation, breathing problems, agitation, and seizures.
You should not use this product if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Ask a doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider if it is safe for you to use this product if you have ever had:
congestive heart failure;
high blood pressure;
a stomach ulcer, acid reflux disease, hiatal hernia; or
mental illness or psychosis.
Belladonna is considered likely unsafe to use during pregnancy.
Belladonna is considered likely unsafe to use if you are nursing a baby. Belladonna can also slow breast milk production.
How should I take belladonna?
When considering the use of herbal supplements, seek the advice of your doctor. You may also consider consulting a practitioner who is trained in the use of herbal/health supplements.
If you choose to use belladonna, use it as directed on the package or as directed by your doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider. Do not use more of this product than is recommended on the label.
Do not use different forms of belladonna (pills, liquids, and others) at the same time or you could have an overdose.
Call your doctor if the condition you are treating with belladonna does not improve, or if it gets worse while using this product.
Store belladonna at room temperature away from moisture and heat.
What happens if I miss a dose?
Skip the missed dose and take the next regularly scheduled dose. Do not take two doses at one time.
What happens if I overdose?
Seek emergency medical attention or call the Poison Help line at 1-800-222-1222.
What should I avoid while taking belladonna?
Avoid taking belladonna if you have a fever.
Avoid driving or hazardous activity until you know how belladonna will affect you. Belladonna may cause blurred vision and may impair your reactions.
Avoid becoming overheated or dehydrated during exercise and in hot weather. Belladonna can decrease sweating and you may be more prone to heat stroke.
Belladonna side effects
Get emergency medical help if you have signs of an allergic reaction: hives; difficult breathing; swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Call your doctor at once if you have:
severe diarrhea or severe constipation;
unusual changes in mood or behavior;
red and dry skin;
dilated pupils; or
painful or difficult urination.
Common side effects may include:
decreased urination; or
This is not a complete list of side effects and others may occur. Call your doctor for medical advice about side effects. You may report side effects to FDA at 1-800-FDA-1088.
What other drugs will affect belladonna?
Ask a doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider before using belladonna with any other medications, especially:
medicine to treat depression, anxiety, mood disorders, or mental illness;
cold or allergy medicine (Benadryl and others);
medicine to treat Parkinson’s disease;
medicine to treat stomach problems, motion sickness, or irritable bowel syndrome;
medicine to treat overactive bladder; or
bronchodilator asthma medication.
This list is not complete. Other drugs may affect belladonna, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, and herbal products. Not all possible drug interactions are listed here.
- Your pharmacist has more information about belladonna written for health professionals that you may read.
Remember, keep this and all other medicines out of the reach of children, never share your medicines with others, and use this medication only for the indication prescribed.
Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.
Copyright 1996-2018 Cerner Multum, Inc. Version: 4.01.
More about belladonna
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- En Español
- 3 Reviews
- Drug class: anticholinergics/antispasmodics
- FDA Alerts (1)
Other brands: Belladonna Tincture
- Belladonna (AHFS Monograph)
Related treatment guides
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome
- … +5 more
Belladonna is a naturally occurring mixture.
Belladonna produces many effects in the body, including relief from spasms of the gastrointestinal tract (stomach and intestines), the bladder, and the biliary tract. This is helpful in controlling conditions such as colitis, spastic bladder, diverticulitis, infant colic, renal and biliary colic, peptic ulcer, and irritable bowel syndrome.
Belladonna also reduces the secretions of many organs, thereby helping to control conditions such as excessive stomach acid production.
Belladonna is used to treat the rigidity, tremor, excessive salivation, and sweating caused by Parkinson’s disease.
Belladonna also is used to treat motion sickness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping associated with menstruation, and to reduce nighttime urination.
Belladonna may also be used for purposes other than those listed in this medication guide.
Use caution when driving, operating machinery, or performing other hazardous activities. Belladonna may cause dizziness, drowsiness, or blurred vision. If you experience dizziness, drowsiness, or blurred vision, avoid these activities.
Use alcohol cautiously. Alcohol may increase drowsiness and dizziness while you are taking belladonna.
Avoid becoming overheated in hot weather. Belladonna increases the risk of heat stroke because it causes decreased sweating.
Do not take belladonna if you have
- kidney disease;
- a blockage of your urinary tract (difficulty urinating);
- a blockage in your intestines, severe ulcerative colitis, or ulcerative colitis complicated by toxic megacolon;
- glaucoma; or
- myasthenia gravis.
Before taking this medication, tell your doctor if you have
- numbness or tingling in your hands or feet;
- liver disease;
- ulcerative colitis;
- thyroid problems;
- high blood pressure, an irregular heartbeat, or any type of heart disease;
- hiatal hernia or reflux disease;
- enlargement of the prostate; or
- asthma, chronic lung disease, or allergies.
You may not be able to take belladonna, or you may require a lower dose or special monitoring during treatment if you have any of the conditions listed above.
It is not known whether belladonna will harm an unborn baby. Do not take this medication without first talking to your doctor if you are pregnant.
It is not known belladonna passes into breast milk. Do not take this medication without first talking to your doctor if you are breast-feeding a baby.
British Homeopathic Association
by David Lilley
Atropa belladonna, the deadly nightshade, is a member of the solanaceae family, which includes other very poisonous plants, such as Datura stramonium, the thorn apple or devil’s trumpet, and Hyoscyamus niger, the black henbane, but also such friendly plants as the tomato, the potato, green and red peppers and the eggplant, as well as the protective mandrake and the seductive, but not so harmless, tobacco plant.
Nature is the great mother of symbols. She reveals much of her inner mysteries in the external characteristics of her creations. The appearance, growth pattern and habitat of a plant form a symbolic expression or signature of the hidden, therapeutic genius lying latent within. So it is with Belladonna.
The deadly nightshade is widely distributed over Central and Southern Europe and is almost confined to chalky or calcareous soils. Early homeopaths soon discovered that a close relationship exists between Belladonna and Calcarea carbonica, which is derived from the chalky, middle layer of the oyster shell. People of the Calc carb constitutional type often develop acute conditions that require treatment with Belladonna.
The nightshades have been described as the “gypsies of the roadside and abandoned places”. Many thrive best where there is human garbage and refuse, on rubbish dumps and compost heaps. Belladonna loves waste areas, old quarries and ruins – places forsaken by man.
The plant shows a curious responsiveness to light and shade. In shady places, on wooded hills and especially if on limestone, it grows vigorously and luxuriantly, even to the height of a tall man, but specimens exposed to the sun are, by comparison, weak and dwarfed. Paradoxically, however, the more sun and light a plant is exposed to the more poisonous it becomes, due to the increased concentration of the toxins (alkaloids) it contains. Belladonna is one of the most frequently indicated remedies for sunstroke.
The extreme vitality of the plant is witnessed each year in the rapid and vigorous growth that erupts from the thick, fleshy, whitish perennial root – older plants attaining a height of five to six feet in one season. Ailments that yield to Belladonna therapy come on suddenly, even explosively, and most often in vigorous, robust children and adults. Pains are intense and come on suddenly and disappear suddenly. The mental and physical symptoms it produces and cures are generally of a violent nature. Inflammatory states are characterised by extremely high fever and locally by severe throbbing pains, a bright redness, which quickly changes to bluish-red or purple, marked tenderness, swelling and heat. It is remarkable how swiftly a Belladonna condition can move to suppuration. Typical examples of this are tonsillitis and whitlow.
Despite being highly poisonous, the only sinister aspect the plant presents is the flower, which appears in June and July in the axils of the leaves and continues blooming until September. These are pendent, bell-shaped and are a dark, congested, purplish colour, tinged with green and possess five lobes. The calyx, which embraces the base of the inflorescence, has five clefts.
Even the number of petals of a flower has significance. In the ancient lore of numerology the number five possesses certain analogies – freedom, independence, changeability, rebelliousness, volatility, youth and adolescence, the five faculties and the sense pleasures. Five is also connected with fire and the colour red, which emotionally indicate passion and physically suggest inflammation. Fire is also symbolic of initiation, cleansing and regeneration.
Red is the colour of the first or root chakra, which reflects consciousness at a survival level – aggression and animal sexuality. The shadow aspect of the number five reveals insatiable desire for sense gratification, luxury, promiscuity, the abuse of recreational drugs and alcohol, and the destructive emotions – jealousy, hatred, pride, aggression, viciousness and malice. As a red, fire number, five has an affinity for anything hidden, occult, esoteric or mysterious. This may focus on meditation, rituals, witchcraft, Satanism, tantra, sexual and drug “magick”, and interests, which may prove either enlightening or detrimental to the individual. A study of the history, folklore, uses and remedy pictures of the poisonous solanaceae and comparison with the above, reveal powerful evidence of their correspondence to the number five – a correspondence which begins with Belladonna and becomes more pronounced in Stramonium and Hyoscyamus.
The berry that follows the blossom, far from being repulsive, is as big as a small cherry and acquires an intense, shining black colour, which enticingly catches the eye and beckons to the unwary. Like a rare jewel it attracts the fingers, whilst the mouth already anticipates the intensely sweet taste of the dark, inky juice it contains – an attraction that has often proved fatal to children. The berries’ lethal seductiveness, the frenzied, demoniacal mania they induce and their homicidal reputation gave them the name “Devil’s Cherries” or “Naughty Man’s Cherries”. As we might anticipate the symptoms of poisoning develop rapidly and violently and soon threaten life.
The species name belladonna “beautiful lady”, alludes to the custom, of fashionable Italian ladies of the Renaissance, of dilating their pupils by instilling a drop of the berry juice into their eyes, rendering them darker and more brilliant, to enhance their beauty and allure. The Latin scientific generic name of the plant, atropa, derives from Atropos “the inevitable”, one of the three Fates of Greek mythology – she who, at the bidding of Lachesis, cuts the thread of life woven by Clotho. The common name “nightshade” most likely refers to Nah-Skado, alluding to the Celto-Teutonic goddess Skadi – “the destroyer” – “Queen of the Shades” or “Mother Death” – active in the darkness of the night (nah) – (Prisma). As such Skadi is the equivalent of the Hindu, Kali, “the black goddess” – “she who creates that she may destroy and destroys that she may create”. She is akin to the black Madonna of Christianity.
Behind the sternness of these mother goddesses abides a nurturing, infinite love for mankind working with seeming ruthlessness towards the destruction of the false-ego and the transcendence of the human psyche from the shadows towards the light.
It would seem that nature intentionally fashioned the herb for a special role in the treatment of the human psyche, particularly when beguiled and entranced by the seductive ways of the world into a state of forgetfulness and detachment from its divine origin and spiritual nature. Its toxic alkaloids become more aggressive to animal life in direct proportion to brain development, being least active in lower animals, such as rabbits and goats, more intense in carnivorous animals and highly toxic and even lethal in homo sapiens.
In humans furthermore, this gradation of toxic intensity is evidenced in proportion to intellectual development – being most dangerous in those of high intelligence and those who show left cerebral dominance, characterised by a sharp intellect, a logical, analytical approach to life and a masculine energy (regardless of gender). Hufeland asserted that the mentally retarded are unusually resistant to the poison. Since the left cerebral hemisphere governs the functions of the right side of the body, the physical symptoms of Belladonna are more frequently right-sided.
The disproportionate development and dominance of the intellect and the masculine principle is often at the expense of both instinct and intuition. The stage upon which life is enacted is then too much in the head and too little in the heart, too much in the mind and too little in the feelings. The false-ego becomes inflated and worships at the altar of intellect and materialism. The sense of oneness with the creation and with Mother Nature is lost, the divine aspects of the true-self become disconnected and are lost in the Shadow-self, unrealised, unfulfilled and most often not even aspired to. Belladonna like its solanaceae cousins is most active in the treatment of those whose eternal qualities and awareness have been forgotten and whose true-self has been replaced by a false-self filled with fear and anger.
The Shadow, or personal abyss, grows apace with the development of the false-self and is filled with all the characteristics we are ashamed of and therefore repress, all our unresolved emotions, dating back to our conception, and our unrealised, divine aspects. This is particularly true of those who fail to feel and live out their emotions. In the Shadow lurks also the personal devil or “beast” structure, a proud, selfish, destructive, hateful, dark energy, which resides in varying degrees within us all, easily recognised in a Hitler but difficult to own and face in ourselves. The Devil has many symbols and some loom large in the collective, human unconscious, such as the wolf, the cockroach, with its long horns (antennae) and gleaming armour, the rat and the snake. The devil wolf is black, snarling, threatening, with glowing, baleful eyes and bared, slavering fangs, a malevolent and terrifying image – or it is the mad dog, the rabid, mutant wolf, black, fiendish, savage and unpredictable, a “Hound of the Baskervilles” – a carrier of death and destruction. These images are imprinted not only in the Shadow of humanity but also in Belladonna, Stramonium and Hyoscyamus, remedies of inestimable value in the treatment of rabies and hence for the treatment of the Shadow. Fear of water (hydrophobia) is a characteristic of rabies and also of these three remedies. In analytical psychology water is understood to symbolise the unconscious, hence fear of water symbolises fear of what lies in the unconscious – an innate fear of the Shadow.
In the materia medica of Belladonna appear the following significant symptoms derived from proving trials of the remedy and from cured cases:
She attempted to bite and strike her attendants, broke into fits of laughter and gnashed her teeth. The head was hot, the face red, the look wild and fierce. He was possessed by an inclination to bite those about him and to tear everything about him to pieces. Raging, violent fury; such fury that she had to be held constantly, lest she should attack someone; and when thus held, so that she could not move, she spat continually at those about her. Visions of wolves, dogs, giants and fire; cockroaches swarming about the room; rats; snakes; worms; unclean beasts, black creatures. Sees black dogs; snakes in and around her. Everything he looks at seems red; everywhere she sees fire and conflagration.
Such ghastly visions and violent anger indicate some awful abuse in the past, experiences so horrible that they have been consigned to the Shadow, out of memory. The Shadow is our own, hidden, waste area, our rubbish dump, our forsaken realm. Yet within its confines lie riches beyond measure. Like the deadly nightshade, it is in the realising of the Shadow that we can grow spiritually with vigour and luxuriance and advance beyond the toxic, spiritually dwarfing, light of the false ego and the intellect. Even in the acute Belladonna state, with its high fever and violent symptoms, a more subtle process is at work, the releasing of repressed energy from the Shadow realm, an evolution that is further developed and fulfilled in the states of Stramonium and Hyoscyamus.
The solanaceae, when indicated, expedite the individuation of the soul, the advancement towards spiritual maturity. They embody the intense, all embracing love of the “Black Goddess”, the “Queen of the Shades”, whose sustaining power overshadows us when we finally face our Shadow in the “Dark Night of the Soul”.
David Lilley MBChB FFHom trained at the Royal London Homoeopathic Hospital and developed his practice in South Africa over the last 35 years. He is internationally renowned as a teacher of the materia medica.
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Belladonna is an herb that has been used for a variety of problems, including the following conditions:
- Menstrual symptoms
- Peptic ulcer disease
- Motion sickness
- Parkinson’s disease
- Intestinal and biliary colic
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Belladonna contains active agents with anticholinergic properties, such as the tropane alkaloids atropine, hyoscine (scopolamine) and hyoscyamine.
Belladonna is used orally as a sedative, as an antispasmodic in bronchial asthma and whooping cough, as an anesthetic, and as a cold and hay fever remedy.
Belladonna is used topically in liniments for rheumatism, sciatica, and neuralgia, and in medicinal plasters for treating psychiatric disorders, hyperkinesis, hyperhidrosis, and bronchial asthma.
Belladonna is used rectally in hemorrhoid suppositories.
Diseases and Conditions
The FDA warns against the use of belladonna in teeth whitnening products, as it is toxic. There is not enough scientific research to assign an effectiveness rating to this supplement for the following uses:
- Menstrual symptoms
- Peptic ulcer disease
- Motion sickness
- Parkinson’s disease
- Intestinal and biliary colic
- Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Belladonna may be unsafe when taken orally because it may contain toxic alkaloids; it should only be taken in controlled amounts under the supervision of a physician.
Adverse effects are common with belladonna, including pupillary dilation, urinary retention, dry mouth, confusion, constipation, and flushing. Side effects are more common when belladonna is consumed in doses of 0.5mg or more.
Belladonna is unsafe for pregnant and breastfeeding women; children may safely take belladonna under the care of a physician.
Due to the toxic potential of belladonna, it may interact with diseases and should be avoided by those who have congestive heart failure, constipation, down syndrome, esophageal reflux, fever, gastric ulcers, gastrointestinal infections, hiatal hernia, hypertension, glaucoma, psychiatric disorders, toxic megacolon, ulcerative colitis, and urinary retention.
Belladonna can increase the effects of anticholinergic drugs such as amantadine, antihistamines, phenothiazines, procainamide, quinidine, tricyclic antidepressants, and others. It contains hyocyamine (atropine), which can prevent cisapride from increasing motility in the gastrointestinal tract.
Supplement and Food Interactions
There are no known supplement, herb, or food interactions for belladonna.
The correct dosage of any supplement requires a comprehensive analysis of many factors including your age, sex, health conditions, DNA, and lifestyle.
The belladonna leaf powder is typically taken as an average single dose of 50-100 mg. The maximum single dose is 200 mg, which is equivalent to 0.6 mg total alkaloids, calculated as hyoscyamine. The maximum daily dose is 600 mg, which is equivalent to 1.8 mg total alkaloids, calculated as hyoscyamine.
The root powder is commonly used in an average single dose of 50 mg. The maximum single dose is 100 mg, which is equivalent to 0.5 mg total alkaloids, calculated as hyoscyamine. The maximum daily dose of the root powder is 300 mg, equivalent to 1.5 mg total alkaloids calculated as hyoscyamine.
The belladonna extract has an average single dose of 10 mg. The maximum single dose is 50 mg, equivalent to 0.73 mg total alkaloids calculated as hyoscyamine, and the maximum daily dosage is 150 mg, equivalent to 2.2 mg total alkaloids calculated as hyoscyamine.
Although belladonna has been used in traditional homeopathic remedies for centuries, it is also a known toxin and should not be eaten.
Used centuries ago as a poison, hallucinogen, and even as a beauty remedy, belladonna is a plant rich in potentially deadly alkaloids. But the dose makes the poison: in low doses, this plant may help with IBS, menopausal complaints, migraines, and flu-like symptoms. Read on to learn more about its dark history and why safer alternatives are available.
What Is Belladonna?
“All things are poison and nothing is without poison; only the dose makes a thing not a poison.”
This 500-year-old principle of toxicology from the Swiss physician and chemist Paracelsus precisely describes the effects of belladonna (Atropa belladonna). It sheds light on why this unusual plant can be both a deadly poison and a healing remedy.
Belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade and devil’s cherries, is an herb belonging to the same family as tomatoes, potatoes, tobacco, and Jimsonweed (Solanaceae). It can be recognized by its purple, bell-shaped flowers and cherry-like, blackberries. Native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia, belladonna is also sometimes cultivated as an ornamental plant in the US .
Belladonna is very poisonous. It contains up to 20 different alkaloids. Its alkaloids are anticholinergics, substances that block the “rest-and-digest” action of acetylcholine in the body. One of the main active compounds is hyoscyamine, which is converted into a mixture called atropine in the body .
Cholinergic activity in the body is generally beneficial, as opposed to fight-or-flight overdrive. However, blocking cholinergic activity is beneficial for some diseases, especially when it comes to respiratory disorders. Belladonna can be used to relax blocked airways, relieve headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and menopausal symptoms .
The therapeutic potential of belladonna was explored in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Belladonna and its alkaloids were used to improve conditions such as:
Belladonna is still available as a component of conventional medicines such as Bellergal (0.2 mg alkaloids) and Donnatal (0.13 mg alkaloids). However, these have largely been replaced by safer compounds with more specific effects. Belladonna is also sold as herbal preparations and homeopathic remedies .
Belladonna, also called deadly nightshade, is a poisonous plant from the same family as potatoes, tomatoes, and tobacco. It contains many toxic compounds, but in very small quantities, it is believed to have some therapeutic potential.
- May help with menopausal complaints, flu-like symptoms, and migraines
- Toxic at very low doses
- Risk of serious adverse effects
- Interactions with anticholinergic drugs
- Insufficient evidence for several benefits
- Safer and more effective remedies are available for most uses
The Dark Side of the “Beautiful Lady”
In the 16th century, Venetian women started using belladonna extract to enlarge their pupils and flush their cheeks, which was seen as attractive at the time. In fact, the plant received its common name from this use (“bella donna” means “beautiful woman” in Italian) .
However, the poisonous properties of belladonna were well known since ancient times and even mentioned in historical literature such as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. In the medieval ages, belladonna was mainly used as a poison and to induce hallucinations in witchcraft and sorcery rituals .
Belladonna may be the reason witches are represented as flying on broomsticks. Peculiarly, they would rub a “flying ointment” with belladonna and other poisonous plants on their thighs with a broom. The alkaloids would be absorbed through the skin and caused vivid hallucinations and sensations of flight. Once they regained consciousness, the women were convinced that the flight was real.
Another legend says that centuries ago, spies hired by kings and the wealthy learned how to ingest small amounts of a brew made from belladonna to develop tolerance. This way, the assassin could show the drink is safe to consume, which would encourage the victim to swallow its deadly poison.
Belladonna has a long history of use in cosmetics, witchcraft, and poisonings.
The main active compounds of Belladonna are its alkaloids, which the plant uses as a defense against the animals tempted to eat it. The roots contain approximately 0.7 % alkaloids, while the leaves contain slightly less (0.04%). The most abundant ones are :
- Atropine (or apoatropine)
Some other less concentrated alkaloids in the roots and leaves include:
In the seeds, the alkaloid content is approximately 0.06% and the most abundant ones are atropine and scopolamine .
Ripe Belladonna fruits contain approximately 2 mg alkaloids per berry, with atropine accounting for up to 98% .
Consuming 2 – 5 berries or a single leaf can be fatal. Most cases of poisoning occur from eating the berries, either by mistaking them for blueberries or to cause deliberate self-harm. Unintentional poisoning from herbal extracts has also been reported .
Belladonna is extremely poisonous. A single leaf or 2-5 berries is enough to kill most people, and the berries look similar enough to blueberries to be mistaken for them.
Mechanism of Action
Acetylcholine is the main neurotransmitter of the rest-and-digest (parasympathetic) system, which opposes the action of the fight-or-flight (sympathetic) system. In the brain, acetylcholine stimulates memory and cognitive processes. Outside the brain, it activates muscles and aids digestion .
Belladonna alkaloids block the action of acetylcholine by binding to its receptors in nerves, muscles, and glands. They can also cross the blood-brain barrier and achieve effects in the brain, where they prevent nausea and cause hallucinations, memory loss, and sleepiness. Outside the brain, they enlarge the pupils, increase heart rate (except at low doses), decrease bodily secretions, reduce bowel movements, and tighten blood vessels .
The alkaloids in belladonna slightly differ in their effects. Atropine is especially active in the heart, intestines, and bronchi. Hyoscyamine has stronger effects on the nervous system, and scopolamine has a shorter action with the greatest effects on the brain, eyes, and glands .
Belladonna’s alkaloids block acetylcholine receptors in the nerves, muscles, and endocrine glands. This causes hallucinations, memory loss, sleepiness, enlarged pupils, elevated heart rate, and other symptoms.
Medicinal Uses of Belladonna
This section refers to using belladonna extracts or its active compounds in low (but quantifiable) doses, unlike the post about homeopathic formulations. If you’re most interested in homeopathic belladonna remedies, check out this post.
Some of the studies on belladonna listed here date back to the 50s and 60s. Other more recent studies have also explored the potential benefits of low-dose belladonna in combination with other drugs. Its active alkaloid, atropine, is commonly used to dilate the pupils during eye procedures.
Although we present all the research to date, belladonna is very rarely used for these medical purposes today. Safer, more effective conventional and alternative therapies with sufficient evidence supporting their effectiveness exist. Discuss with your doctor if belladonna may help with your condition and never take it in place of what your doctor recommends or prescribes.
Possibly Effective for:
Organophosphates are highly poisonous pesticides that cause the buildup of acetylcholine in the body by blocking the enzyme that breaks it down (acetylcholinesterase). Belladonna’s alkaloid atropine is widely used to reduce the acetylcholine over-stimulation in such cases of poisoning. Anisodamine, a less powerful belladonna alkaloid, has been successfully tested as an alternative to atropine with fewer side effects .
In rats and dogs with poisoning from the organophosphate pesticide parathion, belladonna alkaloids (atropine, hyoscyamine, and total alkaloid extract) reduced death rates .
A commercial extract of belladonna alkaloids (Bellafoline 0.5 mg) combined with the alkaloid ergotamine allowed rats to survive otherwise lethal injections of a scorpion toxin .
Belladonna powerfully blocks acetylcholine activity, while other poisons (such as organophosphates) increase acetylcholine activity. Alkaloids extracted from belladonna have successfully reversed the effects of such poisons. If you believe that you have been exposed to organophosphates, seek medical attention immediately.
Insufficient Evidence for:
The following purported benefits are only supported by limited, low-quality clinical studies. There is insufficient evidence to support the use of belladonna for any of the below-listed uses. Remember to speak with a doctor before using any type of belladonna or its extracts, and never use them in place of something your doctor recommends or prescribes.
2) Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic inflammatory gut condition, with pain and altered bowel movements (diarrhea, constipation, or both). The combination of belladonna (8 mg) with an anticonvulsant (phenobarbital 30 mg) improved both the digestive and psychological (anxiety, tiredness, sleep difficulties) symptoms in 2 old clinical trials on 91 people .
In two recent trials on almost 150 people with IBS, a medicine with 10 mg belladonna extract and an opium alkaloid (papaverine 50 mg) improved pain, cramps, and bowel movements, but two other commercial medicines were more effective .
The belladonna alkaloid scopolamine (10 mg hyoscine butylbromide 4x/day) improved irritable bowel syndrome in an old trial on 12 people, especially in combination with the anti-anxiety drug (lorazepam) and the laxative ispaghula husk .
Symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome are more commonly managed with other medications in conventional medicine. Overall, IBS is a complex disease that often requires a more holistic approach (monitoring hormones, stress, inflammation, and other hidden imbalances in the body) .
Some clinical studies have found that small doses of belladonna improved symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), especially pain, cramps, and bowel movements. However, conventional therapies were better.
3) Menopausal Complaints
Menopausal women often experience hot flashes, sweating, insomnia, irritability, and loss of libido. Although estrogens are the usual therapy, they may cause side effects such as headaches or water retention and are strongly discouraged in breast cancer survivors .
A medication containing 0.2 mg belladonna alkaloids (Bellergal) improved the symptoms in 2 clinical trials on over 100 menopausal women. In one of them, however, the effects were no longer distinguishable from those of placebo after 8 weeks .
In an observational study on 31 postmenopausal breast cancer survivors, 8 used Bellergal for hot flashes .
Some small clinical trials have found a possible benefit for low-dose belladonna in menopausal complaints, but the evidence is considered insufficient.
4) Discomfort after Medical Procedures
Rectal suppositories of belladonna and opium may be used to ease discomfort after medical procedures. Belladonna’s atropine and scopolamine relax the muscles, while opium’s morphine reduces pain .
Belladonna and opium suppositories reduced pain, urinary urgency, and the need for pain-relief medication in 3 clinical trials on over 200 people undergoing urinary and prostate procedures (prostate removal, ureteral stent placement, ureteroscopy). However, they failed to reduce pain from vaginal surgery or bladder injections in 2 clinical trials on over 100 women .
5) Airway Blockage
Belladonna alkaloids reduce airway blockage by preventing the narrowing of the bronchi. Oral belladonna tinctures (supplying 0.01 mg/kg atropine 1 – 2x/day for 7 days) widened blocked airways and improved breathing in two studies on over 100 children .
However, blocked airways, as in COPD, are more commonly managed with a combination of other drugs (other anticholinergics and beta activators) .
In an old clinical trial on 55 people with frequent headaches, a complex with belladonna (0.2 mg alkaloids), ergotamine, and phenobarbital 2x/day for 4 weeks reduced pain and the need for pain medication. In a case series from the 1950s, a similar combination (Bellergal) had “satisfactory results” at relieving headaches in 73% of people .
Such combinations are no longer used, due to their high risk of toxicity, abuse, and overdose. In fact, the sedative phenobarbital was the “sleeping pill” responsible for numerous suicides and deaths in the 50s. It was one of the drugs in the cocktail that killed Marilyn Monroe. Its past is even darker than Belladonna’s, as it was also allegedly used in Nazi euthanasia programs in the 40s.
7) Premenstrual Symptoms
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) can include various symptoms that vary between one woman and another. These include mood swings, irritability, fatigue, sleepiness, acne, tender breasts, and water retention .
In an old clinical trial on 25 women, a medication with 0.2 mg belladonna alkaloids (Bellergal) 3x/day during the 10 days before their period improved the symptoms .
Almost all women experience PMS at some point in their life, and the good news is that there are various safe medications and natural solutions that can help relieve the symptoms.
8) Excessive Drooling
Belladonna’s alkaloid atropine reduced drooling in 2 clinical trials on 7 adults and 19 children with disabilities. It also reduced the drooling caused by the sedative ketamine in a trial on 140 children, but not in an observational study on 164 .
Pregnant women often experience increased salivation, which is linked to nausea. By blocking the rest-and-digest action of acetylcholine, belladonna reduces salivation. Belladonna alkaloids (4x/day for 5 days) combined with phenothiazine suppositories reduced the excessive drooling and resulting nausea in two pregnant women .
In an old clinical trial on 75 people with anxiety caused by digestive disorders, a medicine with 0.1 mg belladonna alkaloids (Bellergal) 4x/day for 4 weeks improved anxiety more effectively than the sedative chlordiazepoxide (Librium) .
However, both belladonna oral tincture (20 drops) and an atropine injection (0.4 mg) failed to reduce the anxiety caused by a contrast agent used for examining the urinary tract in an old clinical trial on over 1,100 people .
If you suffer from anxiety, we suggest you stay away from belladonna tinctures due to their lack of safety and effectiveness. Explore other safe, natural, and evidence-based behavioral strategies and supplements that may help instead.
Clinical studies have been conducted to investigate belladonna for anxiety, but safer and better-studied alternatives are available and should always be prioritized over this poisonous plant.
Toxicity, Safety & Side Effects
Conventional Belladonna Medicines
At the doses prescribed by doctors to people without certain risk factors, belladonna is possibly safe and doesn’t cause serious adverse effects.
Bellergal, used in 2 clinical trials for menopausal complaints, caused a high rate of withdrawal (30%) due to adverse effects such as :
- Dry mouth
- Skin rash
In an observational study, children taking belladonna syrup for airway obstruction developed only minor side effects such as :
- Loss of appetite
- Sleep difficulties
A medicine for irritable bowel syndrome with 10 mg belladonna extract (Antispasmina) caused only minor adverse effects in clinical trials, nausea and headache being the most common ones .
In rare cases, over-the-counter belladonna medicines have caused other side effects, such as:
- Glaucoma (tablets for cold and flu)
- Contact dermatitis (plaster for backache)
Side effects of belladonna-based medicines are similar to the symptoms of belladonna poisoning. They include drowsiness, dizziness, sleep difficulties, and constipation.
Although normally perceived as safer, herbal remedies can contain concentrated active compounds that are as likely as conventional medicines to cause adverse effects, especially at high doses.
One woman experienced severe poisoning after taking 50 mL of herbal belladonna tincture for insomnia with an unusually high atropine content (0.3 mg/mL). She experienced confusion, accelerated heart rate, and high blood pressure .
In a child with skin and eye yellowing (jaundice) caused by antibiotics for tuberculosis, a herbal remedy containing belladonna caused dry mouth, accelerated breathing, confusion, vomiting, loss of vision, and hallucinations .
Herbal remedies made from belladonna generally have lower concentrations of its toxic alkaloids, but they still have the potential to cause belladonna poisoning.
Poisoning from Eating the Plant
The berries have a pleasantly sweet taste and accidental poisoning after eating them is not rare, especially in children. Poisoning due to recreational intake for its hallucinatory effects is most common in teenagers. Eating the plant or drinking tea brewed from it can cause severe poisoning due to its high alkaloid content. The main symptoms of belladonna poisoning include :
- Meaningless speech
- Lack of coordination, tremors, and shakings
- Confusion and hallucinations
- Anxiety, agitation, and aggressiveness
- Increased heart rate
- Enlarged pupils and blurred vision
- Numbness, coma, and even death
Belladonna is extremely poisonous despite the sweet flavor of the berries. All parts of the plant are toxic enough to be lethal.
Pregnancy and Breastfeeding
Both atropine and scopolamine can cross the placenta and come into contact with the developing fetus. Several studies have investigated their potential to cause birth defects and death, but the results were contradictory. The FDA concluded that risks cannot be ruled out when belladonna is used during pregnancy (category C) .
Belladonna alkaloids can also accumulate in breast milk and expose babies to their potential toxicity, although this is insufficiently investigated. Belladonna may also reduce milk production and has been traditionally applied on the nipples for this purpose .
Children are more sensitive to belladonna poisoning. While adults can survive up to 1 g atropine, doses as low as 0.2 mg/kg (equivalent to eating 2 berries in a 20 kg child) can be deadly in children .
The Elderly & Others at Risk
Belladonna’ scopolamine can have negative effects on memory, attention, and movement coordination at lower doses in elderly people .
Because it can worsen the symptoms, people with the following conditions should avoid belladonna :
- Allergy to belladonna, plants of the same family, and anticholinergic drugs
- Psychiatric and neurodegenerative disorders (Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia)
- Heart disease (coronary heart disease, congestive heart failure, irregular heart rate, high blood pressure)
- Digestive disorders (GERD, ulcers, constipation, colitis)
- Urinary disorders (urinary retention, prostatic obstruction)
Children are the most at risk of belladonna poisoning; eating even 2 berries can be fatal. Others at risk include the elderly and people with various chronic diseases.
To help avoid interactions, your doctor should manage all of your medications carefully. Be sure to tell your doctor about all medications, vitamins, or herbs you’re taking. Talk to your healthcare provider to find out how belladonna might interact with something else you are taking.
Belladonna alkaloids delay stomach emptying, which may reduce the rate at which many drugs are absorbed in the gut .
Belladonna may enhance the effects of other drugs that block the action of acetylcholine and increase the risk of anticholinergic poisoning. Some of these drugs are :
- Antipsychotics (olanzapine, chlorpromazine, clozapine, haloperidol)
- Antidepressants (amitriptyline, benztropine, imipramine, doxepin)
- Antihistamines (promethazine, carbinoxamine, clemastine, cyproheptadine)
- Anti-Parkinson’s medication (olanzapine, amantadine, biperiden, profenamine)
- Muscle relaxants (cyclobenzaprine, pancuronium)
- Drugs for respiratory disorders (tiotropium, ipratropium, oxitropium, fenoterol)
- Drugs for digestive disorders (clidinium, dicycloverine)
- Drugs for urinary disorders (bethanechol, oxybutynin)
- Drugs for heart disease (quinidine)
- Eye drops (cyclopentolate)
Conversely, Belladonna may reduce the effects of drugs that increase the action of acetylcholine such as :
- Ambenonium (drug for myasthenia gravis)
- Cisapride (drug used to increase gut flow)
- Procainamide (drug for irregular heart rate)
- Drugs for Alzheimer’s disease (tacrine, donepezil, rivastigmine, galantamine)
Belladonna contains active compounds which can interact dangerously with a wide variety of drugs that block or enhance the action of acetylcholine.
Belladonna alkaloids atropine and scopolamine bind to muscarinic acetylcholine receptors such as CHRM2 and CHRM3. Variants of these genes may alter the effects of Belladonna .
Conventional Drugs & Herbals
Belladonna normally comes in tablets combining its alkaloids with other drugs such as ergotamine, phenobarbital, and caffeine. Some popular combinations are :
- Bellergal (0.1 – 0.2 mg belladonna alkaloids, 0.3 – 0.6 mg ergotamine tartrate, and 20 – 40 mg phenobarbital)
- Donnatal (0.1037 mg hyoscyamine sulfate, 0.0194 mg atropine sulfate, 0.0065 mg hyoscine hydrobromide, and 16.2 mg phenobarbital)
- Cafergot (0.125 belladonna alkaloids, 100 mg caffeine, 1 mg ergotamine, and 30 mg pentobarbital sodium)
Other forms include :
- Oral tincture (0.3% belladonna)
- Capsules (10 mg belladonna extract and 50 mg papaverine)
- Suppositories (15 – 16.2 mg belladonna and 30 – 65 mg opium)
- Plasters (0.25% belladonna alkaloids)
Tablets containing belladonna often come in combination with other drugs and natural substances including ergotamine, phenobarbital, and caffeine. We strongly recommend talking to your doctor before using any such products.
Because belladonna is not approved by the FDA for any conditions, there is no official dose. Users and supplement manufacturers have established unofficial doses based on their experience.
Conventional Drugs & Herbals
In clinical trials, the most effective doses of medicines containing belladonna were:
The opinions expressed in this section are solely those of belladonna users who may or may not have medical or scientific training. Their reviews do not represent the opinions of SelfDecode. SelfDecode does not endorse any specific product, service, or treatment.
Do not consider user experiences as medical advice. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your doctor or other qualified healthcare providers because of something you have read on SelfDecode. We understand that reading individual, real-life experiences can be a helpful resource, but it is never a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment from a qualified healthcare provider.
People used generic and brand-name (Bellergal, Donnatal, and Cafergot) tablets containing Belladonna mainly for menopausal complaints, irritable bowel syndrome, and headaches. Most of them were satisfied and reported a fast relief of symptoms such as hot flashes, night sweating, pain, diarrhea, and spasms.
Although most users noticed no side effects, a few experienced sleepiness, dizziness, nausea, skin rashes, involuntary movements, or memory losses. Some users became dependent on medications that combined belladonna and phenobarbital.
People using belladonna-opium suppositories for pain relief in the urinary and digestive tracts were usually satisfied with the results and reported high reductions of pain, spasms, and urination frequency.
Limitations and Caveats
Most effects of medicines containing belladonna have been evaluated in only one or two clinical trials, a lot of which are from the 1950s – 1970s.
The effects of belladonna alkaloids as antidotes to some poisons have only been tested in animals.
Additionally, some studies were funded by the companies selling the remedies, most health claims were investigated in only one study, and one (improvement of epilepsy) was only tested in dogs.
- Homeopathic Belladonna: What is it & Does it Work?
Belladonna is a plant rich in alkaloids with a dark past — deadly in high amounts and potentially useful at lower doses. Its combination with other drugs may improve irritable bowel disease, menopausal complaints, headaches, and surgical pain. At the doses prescribed by doctors or contained in properly diluted homeopathic remedies, belladonna is generally safe.
However, exceeding the doses or eating the plant can cause severe poisoning. Overall, safer and more effective alternatives are out there for most conditions belladonna can be used for.
Are you a new drug developer? Contact us to learn more about our customized products and solutions. Stay in the know! As part of our commitment to providing the most up-to-date drug information, we will be releasing #DrugBankUpdates with our newly added curated drug pages. #DrugBankUpdates Name Belladonna Accession Number DB13913 Type Biotech Groups Approved, Experimental Description
Belladonna, also known as atropa belladonna or deadly nightshade, is a perennial herbaceous plant in the nightshade family Solanaceae. Its roots, leaves and fruits contain Hyoscyamine, Scopolamine, and mostly, Atropine. These alkaloids are naturally-occurring muscarinic antagonists. Atropine is a non-selective muscarinic antagonist that is mainly used as an adjunct for anaesthesia. The name “belladonna” originates from the Italian words “beautiful woman” and the historical use of herb eye-drops by women to dilate the pupils of the eyes for aesthetic purposes. Belladonna is a poisonous plant and belladonna intoxication from accidental ingestion may result in a severe anticholinergic syndrome, which is associated with both central and peripheral manifestations 1.
- Atropa belladona
- Atropa belladonna
- Deadly nightshade
|Name||Dosage||Strength||Route||Labeller||Marketing Start||Marketing End|
|Unlock Additional Data|
|Belladone Tct||Tincture||Oral||Laboratoire Atlas Inc||1951-12-31||2006-06-14||Canada|
Additional Data Available
- Application Number Application Number
A unique ID assigned by the FDA when a product is submitted for approval by the labeller.
- Product Code Product Code
A governmentally-recognized ID which uniquely identifies the product within its regulatory market.
Mixture Products Unapproved/Other Products
|Name||Ingredients||Dosage||Route||Labeller||Marketing Start||Marketing End|
|Belladonna and Opium||Belladonna (16.2 mg/1) + Opium (30 mg/1)||Suppository||Rectal||Paddock Laboratories, LLC||1994-05-01||Not applicable||US|
|Belladonna and Opium||Belladonna (16.2 mg/1) + Opium (60 mg/1)||Suppository||Rectal||Paddock Laboratories, LLC||1997-04-22||Not applicable||US|
Categories UNII WQZ3G9PF0H CAS number Not Available
No therapeutic indications.
- Menopausal Symptoms
The active components of belladonna mediate anticholinergic actions. The main effects include inhibition of secretions such as dry mouth, tachycardia, pupillary dilation and paralysis of accommodation, relaxation of smooth muscles in the gut, bronchi, biliary tract and bladder (urinary retention), and inhibition of gastric acid secretion 3. Atropine is a stimulant of the central nervous system 3.
Mechanism of action
The active components of belladonna act as competitive antagonists at muscarinic receptors and block the binding of acetylcholine to the central nervous system and parasympathetic postganglionic muscarinic receptors 1.
Unlock Additional Data Additional Data Available Adverse Effects
Comprehensive structured data on known drug adverse effects with statistical prevalence. MedDRA and ICD10 ids are provided for adverse effect conditions and symptoms.
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Structured data covering drug contraindications. Each contraindication describes a scenario in which the drug is not to be used. Includes restrictions on co-administration, contraindicated populations, and more.
Learn more Additional Data Available Blackbox Warnings
Structured data representing warnings from the black box section of drug labels. These warnings cover important and dangerous risks, contraindications, or adverse effects.
Learn more Absorption
For pharmacokinetic information of the active ingredients, refer to Atropine, Hyoscyamine, or Scopolamine.
Volume of distribution
For pharmacokinetic information of the active ingredients, refer to Atropine, Hyoscyamine, or Scopolamine.
For pharmacokinetic information of the active ingredients, refer to Atropine, Hyoscyamine, or Scopolamine.
Route of elimination
Oral LD50 of atropine is 75 mg/kg in mouse. Clinical manifestations of anticholinergic syndrome include both central and peripheral effects. Central symptoms, which are dose-dependent and anticholinergic agent-specific, include ataxia, disorientation, short-term memory loss, confusion, hallucinations, psychosis, agitated delirium, seizures, coma, respiratory failure or cardiovascular collapse 1. Peripheral effects include mydriasis with cycloplegia, dry mucous membranes, hyperreflexia, flushed skin, diminished bowel sounds or ileus, urinary retention, tachycardia, and hypertension or hypotension 1. Management of anticholinergic intoxication should be symptomatic including gastrointestinal decontamination with activated charcoal 1. The antidote for belladonna poisoning is Physostigmine, which is the same as for atropine 1. Physosigmine crosses the blood-brain barrier and reversibly inhibits anticholinesterase. Benzodiazepines are frequently used for sedation to control anticholinergic effects including delirium and agitation 2.
Affected organisms Not Available Pathways Not Available Pharmacogenomic Effects/ADRs Not Available
Drug Interactions This information should not be interpreted without the help of a healthcare provider. If you believe you are experiencing an interaction, contact a healthcare provider immediately. The absence of an interaction does not necessarily mean no interactions exist. Not Available Food Interactions Not Available General References External Links Wikipedia Belladonna AHFS Codes
- 12:08.08 — Antimuscarinics Antispasmodics
|4||Completed||Prevention||Painful Bladder Syndrome (PBS) / Urinary Bladder, Neurogenic / Urinary Bladder, Overactive / Urinary Urge Incontinence||1|
|4||Completed||Treatment||Hysterectomy / Postoperative pain||1|
|4||Recruiting||Treatment||Urinary Tract Infection||1|
|4||Terminated||Treatment||Urinary Bladder, Overactive||1|
|Not Available||Completed||Supportive Care||Elective Cystoscopy / General Surgery / Ureteroscopy||1|
|Not Available||Completed||Treatment||Pain / Pain Management||1|
Manufacturers Not Available Packagers Not Available Dosage forms
|Tablet, extended release||Oral|
Prices Not Available Patents Not Available
State Solid Experimental Properties Not Available
Classification Not classified ×Unlock Data
There is additional data available for commercial users including Adverse Effects, Contraindications, and Blackbox Warnings. Contact us to learn more about these and other features.
Drug created on September 22, 2017 14:50 / Updated on February 02, 2020 03:08
Botanical.com Home Page
(Atropa belladonna LINN.)
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Steadman Shorter’s Medical Dictionary, Poisons & Antidotes: Atropine
Botanical: Atropa belladonna (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Solanaceae
- Medicinal Action and Uses
- Preparations and Dosages
—Synonyms—Belladonna. Devil’s Cherries. Naughty Man’s Cherries. Divale. Black Cherry. Devil’s Herb. Great Morel. Dwayberry.
—Parts Used—Root, leaves, tops.
—Habitat—Widely distributed over Central and Southern Europe, South-west Asia and Algeria; cultivated in England, France and North America. Though widely distributed over Central and Southern Europe, the plant is not common in England, and has become rarer of late years. Although chiefly a native of the southern counties, being almost confined to calcareous soils, it has been sparingly found in twenty-eight British counties, mostly in waste places, quarries and near old ruins. In Scotland it is rare. Under the shade of trees, on wooded hills, on chalk or limestone, it will grow most luxuriantly, forming bushy plants several feet high, but specimens growing in places exposed to the sun are apt to be dwarfed, consequently it rarely attains such a large size when cultivated in the open, and is more subject to the attacks of insects than when growing wild under natural conditions.
—Description—The root is thick, fleshy and whitish, about 6 inches long, or more, and branching. It is perennial. The purplishcoloured stem is annual and herbaceous. It is stout, 2 to 4 feet high, undivided at the base, but dividing a little above the ground into three – more rarely two or four branches, each of which again branches freely.
The leaves are dull, darkish green in colour and of unequal size, 3 to 10 inches long, the lower leaves solitary, the upper ones in pairs alternately from opposite sides of the stem, one leaf of each pair much larger than the other, oval in shape, acute at the apex, entire and attenuated into short petioles.
First-year plants grow only about 1 1/2 feet in height. Their leaves are often larger than in full-grown plants and grow on the stem immediately above the ground. Older plants attain a height of 3 to 5 feet, occasionally even 6 feet, the leaves growing about 1 to 2 feet from the ground.
The whole plant is glabrous, or nearly so, though soft, downy hairs may occur on the young stems and the leaves when quite young. The veins of the leaves are prominent on the under surface, especially the midrib, which is depressed on the upper surface of the leaf.
The fresh plant, when crushed, exhales a disagreeable odour, almost disappearing on drying, and the leaves have a bitter taste, when both fresh and dry.
The flowers, which appear in June and July, singly, in the axils of the leaves, and continue blooming until early September, are of a dark and dingy purplish colour, tinged with green, large (about an inch long), pendent, bell-shaped, furrowed, the corolla with five large teeth or lobes, slightly reflexed. The five-cleft calyx spreads round the base of the smooth berry, which ripens in September, when it acquires a shining black colour and is in size like a small cherry. It contains several seeds. The berries are full of a dark, inky juice, and are intensely sweet, and their attraction to children on that account, has from their poisonous properties, been attended with fatal results. Lyte urges growers ‘to be carefull to see to it and to close it in, that no body enter into the place where it groweth, that wilbe enticed with the beautie of the fruite to eate thereof.’ And Gerard, writing twenty years later, after recounting three cases of poisoning from eating the berries, exhorts us to ‘banish therefore these pernicious plants out of your gardens and all places neare to your houses where children do resort.’ In September, 1916, three children were admitted to a London hospital suffering from Belladonna poisoning, caused, it was ascertained, from having eaten berries from large fruiting plants of Atropa Belladonna growing in a neighbouring public garden, the gardener being unaware of their dangerous nature, and again in 1921 the Norwich Coroner, commenting on the death of achild from the same cause, said that he had had four not dissimilar cases previously.
It is said that when taken by accident, the poisonous effects of Belladonna berries may be prevented by swallowing as soon as possible an emetic, such as a large glass of warm vinegar or mustard and water. In undoubted cases of this poisoning, emetics and the stomach-pump are resorted to at once, followed by a dose of magnesia, stimulants and strong coffee, the patient being kept very warm and artificial respiration being applied if necessary. A peculiar symptom in those poisoned by Belladonna is the complete loss of voice, together with frequent bending forward of the trunk and continual movements of the hands and fingers, the pupils of the eye becoming much dilated.
—History—The plant in Chaucer’s days was known as Dwale, which Dr. J. A. H. Murray considers was probably derived from the Scandinavian dool, meaning delay or sleep. Other authorities have derived the word from the French deuil (grief), a reference to its fatal properties.
Its deadly character is due to the presence of an alkaloid, Atropine, 1/10 grain of which swallowed by a man has occasioned symptoms of poisoning. 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. Eight pounds of the herb are said to have been eaten by a horse without causing any injury, and an ass swallowed 1 lb. of the ripe berries without any bad results following. 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.
Belladonna is supposed to have been the plant that poisoned the troops of Marcus Antonius during the Parthian wars. Plutarch gives a graphic account of the strange effects that followed its use.
Buchanan relates in his History of Scotland (1582) a tradition that when Duncan I was King of Scotland, the soldiers of Macbeth poisoned a whole army of invading Danes by a liquor mixed with an infusion of Dwale supplied to them during a truce. Suspecting nothing, the invaders drank deeply and were easily overpowered and murdered in their sleep by the Scots.
According to old legends, the plant belongs to the devil who goes about trimming and tending it in his leisure, and can only be diverted from its care on one night in the year, that is on Walpurgis, when he is preparing for the witches’ sabbath. The apples of Sodom are held to be related to this plant, and the name Belladonna is said to record an old superstition that at certain times it takes the form of an enchantress of exceeding loveliness, whom it is dangerous to look upon, though a more generally accepted view is that the name was bestowed on it because its juice was used by the Italian ladies to give their eyes greater brilliancy, the smallest quantity having the effect of dilating the pupils of the eye.
Another derivation is founded on the old tradition that the priests used to drink an infusion before they worshipped and invoked the aid of Bellona, the Goddess of War.
The generic name of the plant, Atropa, is derived from the Greek Atropos, one of the Fates who held the shears to cut the thread of human life – a reference to its deadly, poisonous nature.
Thomas Lupton (1585) says: ‘Dwale makes one to sleep while he is cut or burnt by cauterizing.’ Gerard (1597) calls the plant the Sleeping Nightshade, and says the leaves moistened in wine vinegar and laid on the head induce sleep.
Mandrake, a foreign species of Atropa (A. Mandragora), was used in Pliny’s day as an anaesthetic for operations. Its root contains an alkaloid, Mandragorine. The sleeping potion of Juliet was a preparation from this plant – perhaps also the Mandrake wine of the Ancients. It was called Circaeon, being the wine of Circe.
Belladonna is often confused in the public mind with dulcamara (Bittersweet), possibly because it bears the popular name of woody nightshade. The cultivation of Belladonna in England dates at least from the sixteenth century, for Lyte says, in the Niewe Herball, 1578: ‘This herbe is found in some places of this Countrie, in woods and hedges and in the gardens of some Herboristes.’ Though not, however, much cultivated, it was evidently growing wild in many parts of the country when our great Herbals were written. Gerard mentions it as freely growing at Highgate, also at Wisbech and in Lincolnshire, and it gave a name to a Lancashire valley. Under the name of Solanum lethale, the plant was included in our early Pharmacopoeias, but it was dropped in 1788 and reintroduced in 1809 as Belladonna folia. Gerard was the first English writer to adopt the Italian name, of which he makes two words. The root was not used in medicine here until 1860, when Peter Squire recommended it as the basis of an anodyne liniment.
Before the War, the bulk of the world’s supply of Belladonna was derived from plants growing wild on waste, stony places in Southern Europe. The industry was an important one in Croatia and Slavonia in South Hungary, the chief centre for foreign Belladonna, the annual crop in those provinces having been estimated at 60 to 100 tons of dry leaves and 150 to 200 tons of dry root. In 1908 the largest exporter in Slavonia is said to have sent out 29,880 lb. of dry Belladonna root.
The Balkan War of 1912-13 interrupted the continuity of Belladonna exports from South Hungary. Stocks of roots and leaves made shorter supplies last out until 1914, when prices rose, owing to increasing scarcity roots which realized 45s. per cwt. in January, 1914, selling for 65s. in June, 1914. With the outbreak of the Great War and the consequent entire stoppage of supplies, the price immediately rose to 100s. per cwt., and soon after, from 300s. to 480s. per cwt. or more. The dried leaves, from abroad, which in normal times sold at 45s. to 50s. per cwt., rose to 250s. to 350s. or more, per cwt. In August, 1916, the drug Atropine derived from the plant had risen from 10s. 6d. per oz. before the War to L. 7 (pounds sterling) per OZ.
—Cultivation—Belladonna herb and root are sold by analysis, the value depending upon the percentage of alkaloid contained. A wide variation occurs in the amount of alkaloid present. It is important, therefore, to grow the crop under such conditions of soil and temperature as are likely to develop the highest percentage of the active principle.
In connexion with specimens of the wild plant, it is most difficult to trace the conditions which determine the variations, but it has been ascertained that a light, permeable and chalky soil is the most suitable for this crop. This, joined to a south-west aspect on the slope of a hill, gives specially good results as regards a high percentage of alkaloids. The limits of growth of Belladonna are between 50 degrees and 55 degrees N. Lat. and an altitude of 300 to 600 feet, though it may descend to sealevel where the soil is calcareous, especially where the drainage is good and the necessary amount of shade is found. The question of suitability of soil is especially important. Although the cultivated plant contains less alkaloid than that which grows wild, this in reality is only true of plants transported to a soil unsuited to them. It has been found, on the contrary, that artificial aids, such as the judicious selection of manure, the cleansing and preparation of the soil, destruction of weeds, etc., in accordance with the latest scientific practice, have improved the plants in every respect, not only in bulk, but even in percentage weight of alkaloidal contents.
Authorities differ on the question of manuring. Some English growers manure little if the plants are strong, but if the soil is really poor, or the plants are weak, the crop may be appreciably increased by the use of farmyard manure, or a mixture of nitrate of soda, basic slag and kainit. Excellent results have been obtained in experiments, by treating with basic slag, a soil already slightly manured and naturally suited to the plant, the percentage of total alkaloid in dry leaf and stem from third-year plants amounting to 0.84. In this case, the season was, however, an exceptionally favourable one, and, moreover, the soil being naturally suited to the plant, the percentage of alkaloid obtained without added fertilizer was already high. Speaking from the writer’s own experience, Belladonna grows in her garden at Chalfont St. Peter. The soil is gravelly even stony in some parts, with a chalk subsoil – the conditions similar to those that the plant enjoys in its wild state. This neighbourhood, in her opinion, is a suitable one for growing fields of Belladonna as crops for medicinal purposes.
Notes and statistics taken from season to season, extending over nine years, have shown that atmospheric conditions have a marked influence on the alkaloidal contents of Belladonna, the highest percentage of alkaloid being yielded in plants grown in sunny and dry seasons. The highest percentage of alkaloid, viz. 0.68 per cent, was obtained from the Belladonna crop of 1912, a year in which the months May and June were unusually dry and sunny; the lowest, just half, 0.34 was obtained on the same ground in 1907, when the period May and June was particularly lacking in sunshine. In 1905, August and September proving a very wet season, specimens analysed showed the low percentages of 0.38 and 0.35, whereas in July and October, 1906, the intervening period being very fine and dry, specimens analysed in those months showed a percentage of 0.54 and 0.64 respectively.
There appears to be no marked variation in alkaloidal contents due to different stages of growth from June to September, except when the plant begins to fade, when there is rapid loss, hence the leaves may be gathered any time from June until the fading of the leaves and shoots set in.
In sowing Belladonna seed, 2 to 3 lb. should be reckoned to the acre. Autumn sown seeds do not always germinate, it is therefore more satisfactory to sow in boxes in a cool house, or frame, in early March, soaking the soil in the seed-boxes first, with boiling water, or baking it in an oven, to destroy the embryo of a small snail which is apt, as well as slugs and various insects, to attack the seedlings later. Pieces of chalk or lime can be placed among the drainage rubble at the bottom of the boxes. Belladonna seed is very slow in germinating, taking four to six weeks, or even longer, and as a rule not more than 70 per cent can be relied on to germinate. On account of the seeds being so prone to attack by insect pests, if sown in the open, the seed-beds should first be prepared carefully. First of all, rubbish should be burnt on the ground, the soil earthed up and fired all over, all sorts of burnt vegetable rubbish being worked in. Then thoroughly stir up the ground and leave it rough for a few days so that air and sun permeate it well. Then level and rake the bed fine and finally give it a thorough drenching with boiling water. Let it stand till dry and friable, add sharp grit sand on the surface, rake fine again and then sow the seed very thinly.
Considerable moisture is needed during germination. The seedlings should be ready for planting out in May, when there is no longer any fear of frost. They will then be about 1 1/2 inch high. Put them in after rain, or if the weather be dry, the ground should be well watered first, the seedlings puddled in and shaded from the sun with inverted flower-pots for several days. About 5,000 plants will be needed to the acre. If they are to remain where first planted, they may be planted 18 inches apart. A reserve of plants should be grown to fill in gaps.
The seedlings are liable to injury by late frosts and a light top dressing of farmyard manure or leaf-mould serves to preserve young shoots from injury during sudden and dangerous changes of temperature. They do best in shade. In America, difficulties in the cultivation of Belladonna have been overcome by interspersing plants with rows of scarlet runners, which, shading the herb, cause it to grow rapidly. Healthy young plants soon become re-established when transplanted, but require watering in dry weather. Great care must be taken to keep the crop clean from weeds and handpicking is to be recommended.
By September, the single stem will be 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 feet high. A gathering of leaves may then be made, if the plants are strong; ‘leaves’ include the broken-off tops of the plants, but the coarser stems are left on the plant and all discoloured portions rejected, and the plants should not be entirely denuded of leaves.
Before the approach of winter, plants must be thinned to 2 1/2 to 3 feet apart, or overcrowding will result in the second year, in which the plant will bear one or two strong stems.
The writer finds that the green tips and cuttings from side branches root well and easily in early summer, and that buds with a piece of the root attached can be taken off the bigger roots in April, this being a very successful way of rapid propagation to get big, strong plants.
In the second year, in June, the crop is cut a few inches above the ground, while flowering, and delivered to the wholesale buyer the same day it is cut.
The average crop of fresh herb in the second and third years is 5 to 6 tons per acre, and 5 tons of fresh leaves and tops yield 1 ton of dried herb. A second crop is obtained in September in good seasons.
The yield per acre in the first year of growth should average about 6 cwt. of dry leaves.
The greatest loss of plants is in wet winters. Young seedling plants unless protected by dead leaves during the winter often perish. On the lighter soils there is less danger from winter loss, but the plants are more liable to damage from drought in summer.
One of the principal insect pests that attack Belladonna leaves is the so-called ‘fleabeetle.’ It perforates the leaves to such an extent as to make them unfit for sale in a dried state. It is when the plants are exposed to too much sunlight in open spots that the attacks of the beetle are worst, its natural habitat being well-drained slopes, partly under trees. If therefore the ground around the plants is covered with a thick mulch of leaves, they are not so likely to be attacked. The caterpillars from which the beetles come feed on the ground, and as they dislike moisture, the damp leaves keep them away. If napthalene is scattered on the soil, the vapour will probably help to keep the beetles off. The only way to catch them is to spread greased sheets of paper below the plants, and whenever the plants are disturbed a number of beetles will jump off like fleas and be caught on the papers. This at best only lessens the total quantity, however, and the other methods of precaution are the best.
The plant is dug or ploughed up during the autumn in the fourth year and the root collected, washed and dried, 3 to 4 tons of fresh root yielding a little over 1 ton of dry root. In time of great scarcity, it would probably pay to dig the root in the third year.
Old roots must be replaced by a planting of young ones or offsets, and if wireworm is observed, soot should be dug in with replacements.
Although Belladonna is not a plant that can be successfully grown in every small garden, yet in a chalky garden a few plants might be grown in a shady corner for the sake of the seed, for which there is a demand for propagation. Those, also, who know the haunts of the plant in its wild state might profitably collect the ripe berries, which should then be put into thin cotton bags and the juice squeezed out in running water. When the water is no longer stained, wring the bag well and turn out the seeds on to blotting paper and dry in the sun, or in a warm room near a stove. Sieve them finally, when dry, to remove all portions of the berry skin, etc.
Belladonna has been successfully cultivated in the neighbourhood of Leningrad since 1914, and already good crops have been obtained, the richness of the stems in alkaloids being noteworthy. It is stated that in consequence of the success that has attended the cultivation of Belladonna in Russia, it will no longer be needful to employ German drugs in the preparation of certain alkaloids. Much is also being collected wild in the Caucasus and in the Crimea.
It is hoped that if sufficient stocks can be raised in Britain, not only will it be unnecessary to import Belladonna, but that it may be possible to export it to those of our Dominions where the climate and local conditions prevent its successful culture, though at present it is still included among the medicinal plants of which the exportation is forbidden.
The following note on the growth and cultivation of Belladonna is from the Chemist and Druggist, of February 26, 1921: ‘Belladonna is a perennial, but for horticultural purposes it is treated as a biennial, or triennial plant. The root in 3 years has attained very large dimensions around Edinburgh; in fact, often so large as to make the lifting a very heavy, and therefore costly, matter, and in consequence 2 years’ growth is quite sufficient. One-year-old roots are just as active as the three-year-old stocks, and to the grower it is merely a matter of expediency which crop he chooses to dig up. The aerial growth is very heavy, twoyear-old plants making 5 to 6 feet in the season if not cut for first crop, and if cut in July they make a second growth of 2 to 3 feet by September. To obtain a supply of seeds certain plantations must be left uncut, so as to get a crop of seeds for the next season. Moisture is, from a practical point of view, a very important matter. A sample, apparently dry to the touch, but not crisp, may have 15 per cent to 20 per cent of moisture present. Therefore if a pharmacist was to use a sample of such Belladonna leaves, although assayed to contain 0.03 per cent of alkaloids, he would produce a weaker tincture than if he had used leaves with, say, only 5 per cent of water present. The alkaloidal factor of this drug is the index to its value. Both the British and the United States Pharmacopoeias adopt the same standard of alkaloidal value for the leaves, but the British Pharmacopceia does not require a standard for the root, which is one of those subtle conundrums which this quaint book frequently presents! Plants grown in a hard climate, such as Scotland, give a good alkaloidal figure, which compares favourably with any others. For roots, the British Pharmacopoeia as just stated, requires no standard, but United States Pharmacopceia standard is 0.45 per cent, and Scottish roots yielded 0.78 per cent and 0.72 per cent. There is not a great deal of alkaloidal value in the stalks. About 0.08 in the autumn.’
—Constituents—The medicinal properties of Belladonna depend on the presence of Hyoscyamine and Atropine. The root is the basis of the principal preparations of Belladonna.
The total alkaloid present in the root varies between 0.4 and 0.6 per cent, but as much as 1 per cent has been found, consisting of Hyoscyamine and its isomer Atropine, 0.1 to 0.6 per cent; Belladonnine and occasionally, Atropamine. Starch and Atrosin, a red colouring principle, are also present in the root. Scopolamine (hyoscine) is also found in traces, as is a fluorescent principle similar to that found in horse-chestnut bark and widely distributed through the natural order Solanaceae. The greater portion of the alkaloidal matter consists of Hyoscyamine, and it is possible that any Atropine found is produced during extraction.
The amount of alkaloids present in the leaves varies somewhat in wild or cultivated plants, and according to the methods of drying and storing adopted, as well as on the conditions of growth, soil, weather, etc.
The proportion of the total alkaloid present in the dried leaves varies from 0.3 to 0.7per cent. The greater proportion consists of Hyoscyamine, the Atropine being produced during extraction, as in the root. Belladonnine and Apoatropine may also be formed during extraction from the drug. The leaves contain also a trace of Scopolamine, Atrosin and starch.
The British Pharmacopoeia directs that the leaves should not contain less than 0.3 per cent of alkaloids and the root not less than 0.45 per cent.
A standardized liquid extract is prepared, from which the official plaster, alcoholic extract, liniment, suppository, tincture and ointment are made. The green extract is prepared from the fresh leaves.
—Medicinal Action and Uses—Narcotic, diuretic, sedative, antispasmodic, mydriatic. Belladonna is a most valuable plant in the treatment of eye diseases, Atropine, obtained during extraction, being its most important constituent on account of its power of dilating the pupil. Atropine will have this effect in whatever way used, whether internally, or injected under the skin, but when dropped into the eye, a much smaller quantity suffices, the tiny discs oculists using for this purpose, before testing their patient’s sight for glasses, being made of gelatine with 1/50000 grain of Atropine in each, the entire disk only weighing 1/50 grain. Scarcely any operation on the eye can safely be performed without the aid of this valuable drug. It is a strong poison, the amount given internally being very minute, 1/200 to 1/100 grain. As an antidote to Opium, Atropine may be injected subcutaneously, and it has also been used in poisoning by Calabar bean and in Chloroform poisoning. It has no action on the voluntary muscles, but the nerve endings in involuntary muscles are paralysed by large doses, the paralysis finally affecting the central nervous system, causing excitement and delirium.
The various preparations of Belladonna have many uses. Locally applied, it lessens irritability and pain, and is used as a lotion, plaster or liniment in cases of neuralgia, gout, rheumatism and sciatica. As a drug, it specially affects the brain and the bladder. It is used to check excessive secretions and to allay inflammation and to check the sweating of phthisis and other exhausting diseases.
Small doses allay cardiac palpitation, and the plaster is applied to the cardiac region for the same purpose, removing pain and distress.
It is a powerful antispasmodic in intestinal colic and spasmodic asthma. Occasionally the leaves are employed as an ingredient of cigarettes for relieving the latter. It is well borne by children, and is given in large doses in whooping cough and false croup.
For its action on the circulation, it is given in the collapse of pneumonia, typhoid fever and other acute diseases. It increases the rate of the heart by some 20 to 40 beats per minute, without diminishing its force.
It is of value in acute sore throat, and relieves local inflammation and congestion.
Hahnemann proved that tincture of Belladonna given in very small doses will protect from the infection of scarlet fever, and at one time Belladonnna leaves were held to be curative of cancer, when applied externally as a poultice, either fresh or dried and powdered.
Belladonna plasters are often applied, after a fall, to the injured or sprained part. A mixture of Belladonna plaster, Salicylic acid and Lead plaster is recommended as an application for corns and bunions.
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