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DISCLAIMER: These pages are presented solely as a source of INFORMATION and ENTERTAINMENT and to provide stern warnings against use where appropriate. No claims are made for the efficacy of any herb nor for any historical herbal treatment. In no way can the information provided here take the place of the standard, legal, medical practice of any country. Additionally, some of these plants are extremely toxic and should be used only by licensed professionals who have the means to process them properly into appropriate pharmaceuticals. One final note: many plants were used for a wide range of illnesses in the past, but be aware that many of the historical uses have proven to be ineffective for the problems to which they were applied.

aka Black Cherry, Deadly Nightshade, Devil's Cherries, Devil's Herb, Divale, Dwayberry, Great Morel,
Herb of the Beautiful Lady, Herba belladonna, Naughty Man's Cherries

(Atropa belladonna)
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Also see: Japanese Belladona¹ and Japanese Belladona²

CAUTION: Berries extremely TOXIC. Only 4 berries are needed to produce toxic results in adults. These are dangerously attractive to children and occasionally pets. A DOSE of from 1 teaspoon to 3 tablespoons can be fatal for adults; much smaller doses are fatal in children; death usually results from asphyxiation.
SYMPTOMS of POISONING appear within 15 minutes: red skin, dry mouth, burning throat, dilated pupils, intense thirst, overheating due to decreased perspiration, double vision or inability to focus, difficulty urinating, overexcitement and symptoms of restlessness, hallucinations, delirium, manic attacks followed by exhaustion and sleep, giddiness, burning in stomach, nausea, rambling talk, abnormally fast heartbeat, feeble rapid pulse, muscular tremors or rigidity, severe or persistent constipation,.
DO NOT TOUCH the growing plant if cuts and abrasions are present on the skin. The plant's chemicals are absorbed through the skin!
Antidote for Belladonna is Physostigmine salicylate (MEDICAL EXPERTS ONLY!!). To counter fresh poisoning, emetics are administered.
Belladonna can also increase the effects of prescription drugs such as Amantadine (Symmetrel), Quinidine (Quinaglute, Quinidex), and Tricyclic anti-depressants like Elavil, Pamelor, and Tofranil

IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT BELLADONNA: Acetylcholine is one of the nervous system's chief chemicals. Belladonna interferes with its action, acting mainly on the heart muscle and the smooth muscle in the digestive tract. Also has a drying effect and in large doses can affect the brain, resulting in overexcitement and hallucinations. Taken internally it induces sleep, loss of voice, fevers and racing pulse. The sap of the plant can cause dermatitis. Handling the berries can cause eruptions on the face and visual impairment. People have reportedly died after dining on birds and rabbits which have fed on the berries.

CONTAINS: Alkaloids such as hyoscymine, atropine, hyoscine. Total presence of alkaloid in the root varies between 0.4 and 0.6%, but has been known to be as high as 1%. Also contains Belladonnine, Atrosin (red coloring agent) and starch. Scopolamine (hyoscine) is also found in trace amounts, as well as a fluorescent principle similar to that found in horse chestnut bark, and which appears throughout the Solanaceae order. The majority of the alkaloid is in the form of hyoscyamine
The leaves contain alkaloids, the amounts variable and dependant on the growing conditions. Also traces of scopolamine, atrosin, and starch.

A perennial member of the Solanaceae family which is native to Europe, Asia, and North Africa. It is naturalized in the eastern United States and cultivated in central Europe, England, the United States, and northern India. It is found in meadows, forests and waste places. The crushed plant gives off a disagreeable odor. Leaves have a bitter taste both fresh and dried. It grows from a thick, fleshy, white branching root (about 6 inches long) to a height of five feet with a much branched lax, purplish colored stem. The leaves are a dull, darkish green, oval and pointed, of unequal size being 3 to 10 inches long; the lower leaves are solitary, the upper in alternate pairs on opposite side of the stem, one leaf of each pair being much larger than the other; pale green on the underside with prominent veins; mid-rib is is depressed on the upper surface. Dingy purple-brown to purple bell-shaped flowers, about 1-inch long, dangle in the axils of the leaves; corolla has 5 large teeth or lobes, slightly reflexted; the 5-cleft calyx clings to the berry. The smooth berries contain several seeds and follow the flower, turning from green to a jewel-like black and ripen in September. The berries are sweet and appeal to children which has resulted in poisonings. Cats and dogs are susceptible to the poison, although livestock do not seem to be affected.

The name Belladonna seems to have appeared in the Middle Ages when young women used it to dilate their pupils. During the same period of time, it was commonly believed that this was the favorite plant of the devil. Even earlier, it had a reputation as an ingredient in the drinks presented at orgies where it was said to induce women to throw off their clothes and engage in uninhibited sex. It was also used in brews and ointments prepared by witches and warlocks. Witches did use an ointment containing belladonna and aconite on their skin in the belief it helped them to fly. It was also used to kill.

It was known as 'divale' (meaning trance) in Chaucer's time. Some claim the name was derived from the Swedish 'dool', meaning delay or sleep; others say it is from the French deuil, meaning grief. A powerful narcotic which is highly poisonous, it is currently used in several prescription medications which employ the active ingredient in the plant to relieve intestinal and related complaints. It is also a valued homeopathic preparation.

During the Parthian Wars it was said to have been used to poison the troops of Marcus Antonius. It was also the sleeping potion used by Juliet in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. One tradition states that Duncan I, King of Scotland (the soldiers of MacBeth), poisoned an army of invading Danes with a liquor mixed with belladonna and given to the Danes during a truce. When the Danes fell into a stupor, they were murdered by the Scots. Other old legends state the plant belongs to the devil who tends it at his leisure. He can however, be diverted from its care on one night of the year which is Walpurgis, the time he prepares for the witches' sabbath. Other legends say it is related to the apples of Sodom; that the name belladonna refers to an old superstition that the plant takes on the form of an enchantress of great loveliness, the sight of whom is dangerous. Another legend is derived from the anceient tradition of priests drinking an infusion before they invoked the aid of Bellona, Goddess of War. According to one legend, Atropos, one of the three Greek goddesses of Fate, used the berries to cut the thread of life. In Greece it was known as Circaeon, being the wine of Circe.

In earlier times it was farmed in Eastern Europe as a medicinal crop. Ash from bonfires was added to soil around the plants. Before the Balkan Wars (1912-13), the world supply was taken from uncultivated plants growing in waste places of southern Europe. It was an important industry in Croatia and Slavonia in southern Hungary. The war interrupted the flow of these exports, but stocks of roots and leaves were eked out until 1914. At that point, prices rose due to the scarcity of the roots. Herb and root are are sold by analysis, the value dependant on the amount of alkaloid contained, while the alkaloid content is highly dependent on atmospheric conditions, the highest yields produced in sunny, dry seasons.

Italian immigrants to the United States brought with them the tale of the "Black Pill". According to this legend which was believed by many of them, at the end of their lives, if requested, a doctor could give them a black pill which would end their suffering. This legend would seem to be a direct reference to the Belladonna berry which is an integral part of their ethnic history.

In early British pharmacopoeias, it is listed as Solanum lethale, but was dropped in 1788 and reintroduced in 1809 as Belladonna folia. The root was not used in British medicine until 1860, when Peter Squire introduced it as an anodyne liniment. Cultivation in England dates from at least the 16th century. Leaves official in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia since 1820.

A peculiar test for determining if someone has been posioned by the berries appeared in Julia Morton's Major Medicinal Plants: "Take a few drops of the person's urine and place in the eye of a cat; if the cat's pupil dilates fully in light, then that person can be assumed to have eaten belladonna".

By SEED, 2 to 3 lbs sown to the acre; germinates in 12 to 24 days (some sources say 4 to 6 weeks); germination can be improved by soaking seed in boiling water or baking in an oven to destroy embryos of pests. Plant out 18 to 20 inches apart in 70F soil which is deep, moisture retentive, but with good drainage. pH should be 4.5 to 7.5 in full sun or part shade. Also propagated by ROOT DIVISION. For more specific information on cultivation see: A Modern Herbal by Maude Grieve, Dover Publications, page 587 of Volume 2. The information is dated, but still useful if current information is lacking.
NEEDS: Alkaline soil (thus the addition of bonfire ash) in partial shade.
PART USED: Roots, leaves, flowering tops.
HARVEST: Leaves (while plant is in flower) and flowering branch tips are taken from May to July; the roots of 2 to 4 year-old plants are dug in mid-October to mid-November, or shortly before the start of the flowering season. The dried root is viable for 3 years if stored in a well sealed container out of direct light. The dried plant material is available in powder and extract form. Gloves must be worn when harvesting and especially when collecting the seeds. Squash the poisonous berries under running water and continue to wash until the water runs clear.
FLOWERS: Appear June to July.
SOLVENT: Water and alcohol.
A.b. 'lutea' has pale green-yellow flowers.


"Divale makes one to sleep while he is cut or burnt by cauterizing." Thomas Lupton (1585). It was used anciently as a surgical anesthetic.
Gerard (1597) refers to the plant as Sleeping Nightshade and claimed the leaves moistened in wine vinegar and laid on the head induce sleep.
Mandrake (A. Mandragora) was employed in Pliny's time as an anesthetic for operations. The plant is also said to have been used in making the Mandrake Wine of the ancients.
In the late 19th century, a liniment (also lotions and plasters) of the root was used for sciatica, rheumatism, gout and nerve problems.
In the first part of the 20th century, a standardized liquid extract was prepared from which the official plaster, alcoholic extract, liniment, suppository, tincture and ointment were made. A green extract was also made from the leaves.
Has been used for irregular heartbeat, liver and gallbladder problems, weak heart, heart disease. Small doses to allay cardiac palpitation were administered by applying a plaster to the region of the heart.
Has been used to dilate pupils.
Has been used in Folk Medicine for stomach and abdominal pain, asthma (as an ingredient in cigarettes), bronchitis, whooping cough, false croup, muscle pain, to relieve acute sore throat and local inflammation and congestion. Was once believed to cure cancer when applied as a fresh or dried and powdered poultice.
Plasters were often applied after a fall to the injured or sprained part.
Was once combined with salicylic acid and lead plaster for corns and bunions.
Scopolamine was once combined with morphine and given to women during childbirth, but increased the infant mortality rate and the practice was discontinued.
Was also used to check excessive secretions and to check the sweating of phthisis and other exhausting diseases.

Sedative, narcotic, anodyne, antispasmodic, calmative, relaxant, mydriatic. Acts through the central nervous system. Small doses stimulate, large doses paralyze.
In modern medicine, isolated compounds of atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine are used.
Used by doctors for gastritits, pancreatitis, and chronic urethritis and used for its action on circulation in cases of the collapse of pneumonia, typhoid fever, and other acute diseases. Increases the heart rate by 20 to 40 beats per minute without diminishing its force.
Used in plasters to relieve intestinal and digestive spasms, excessive perspiration, and for bronchial asthma.
Extracts are used to treat Parkinson's, psychiatric disorders, convulsions, epilepsy, and whooping cough, and are added to drugs for asthma, colds, and hayfever; can also be found in some laxatives and liniments as well as prescription medications like Donnatal and Levsin to relieve intestinal complaints.
Atropine is used today to dilate eyes prior to eye surgery, and for certain eye exams.
Although the plant is deadly, one of its components, atropine, is an antidote for other poisons, like parathion (insecticide), and nerve gas developed by the Germans during World War II (although it was reported that it wasn't used, but there were stockpiles known to exist), muscarine, and chloral hydrate. It has also been used as an antidote to opium by injecting subcutaneously (amount being minute, 1/100 to 1/200 of a grain), and for Calabar Bean and Chloroform poisoning.

!All others use commercially prepared products and follow directions carefully!!
POWDERED ROOT = 0.05 to 0.1 gram with the maximum dose being 0.2 grams. No more than 0.6 grams should be taken in 1 day. OR, 1 to 5 grains.
POWDERED LEAVES = 1 to 2 grains.
EXTRACT= average single dose is 0.01 gram with maximum dose being 0.05 grams, and no more than 0.15 grams per day.
FLUID EXTRACT OF ROOT (BP) = 1/4 to 1 drop
TINCTURE (BP) = 5 to 15 drops
GREEN EXTRACT (BP) =1/4 to 1 grain
JUICE (BP) = 5 to 15 drops

Used as a remedy for illnesses of intense fever and delirium; bulging eyeballs that can accompany an overactive thyroid; nerve pain; scarlet fever..

A source of atropine which is antidote for certain nerve gases.
Once used as a truth serum by law enforcement.

(Scopola carniolica syn Scopolia atropoides)
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Also: S. physaloides, S. lurida, S. tangutica

Both the plant and its alkloids are subject to restrictions in some countries!

CONTAINS: All 4 species of Scopola resemble Atropa and Hyoscyamus (Henbane) chemically and are major sources of tropane alkaloids. Used as a source of hyoscine. Sometimes substituted for Atropa in the making of plasters and sometimes substituted for Henbane.
S. carniolica contains hyoscine and hyoscyamine.
S. tangutica contains hyoscyamine, anisdamine, and anisodine.

Japanese Belladonna was used during the 19th century as a substitute for Atropa belladonna. In 1900, morphine was combined with one of the alkaloids from this plant to create the pre-anesthetic called 'twilight sleep'.

PROPAGATION: By seed in autumn, or division in spring.
NEEDS: Grown as an ornmental in well-drained, fertile soil in shade.
HARVEST: Rhizomes are taken in autumn and processed to extract the alkaloids.

Narcotic, dilates pupils, relaxes spasms, relieves pain.
Has been used in Chinese medicine for chronic diarrhea, dysentary, stomachache, and bipolar states.

(Scopola japonica)
[dong dàng cáng]


CONTAINS: Atropine, 1-hyoscyamine, 1-norhyoscyamine, 1-scopolamine, scopoletin (antitumor), scopoline. Total alkaloids constitute 0.2 to 0.3% of which 0.108% is hyoscyamine, 0.049% is atropine, 0.037% is norhyoscyamine and noratropine, 0.004% is scopolamine, scopoletin, betain, choline, and polyphenolase.

When eaten, the seeds produce a type of madness. To be useful, the seeds are first steeped in vinegar, then in milk, finally being dried in the shade.

Anodyne, diuretic, tonic, tussic.
A drug produced from the seed is used for breast cancer, cough, diarrhea, dropsy, dysentery, epilepsy, rectal prolapse, spasms, and stomach pain.
The root has been used for malaria and parasitic skin diseases.

©2000 & 2003 by Ernestina Parziale, CH