Deadly Nightshade is an herbaceous perennial from western and southern Europe. It can also be found in parts of North Africa and Asia. It has since been cultivated in North America and India for commercial production. Since time immemorial Deadly Nightshade has been associated with witchcraft and evil. Even Hildegard Von Bingen said about it:
“the Deadly Nightshade has coldness in it, and yet holds disgust and paralysis in this coldness, and in the earth, and at the place where it grows, the devilish prompting has a certain part and a role in its arts. And it is dangerous for man to eat and to drink, for it destroys his spirit, as if he were dead.” (Physica)
Atropa belladonna in its name has two parts. Firstly, Atropa, is named after Atropos, one of the three Greek Fates. She cut the cord of life. Secondly, Belladonna is the Italian term for “beautiful lady”. From early times, It is said that in Italy women would put a few drops of juice from the berries into their eyes to dilate their pupils. this they believed made them look more attractive. The dilation occurs because the plant contains atropine, a powerful mydriatic.
Atropa belladonna blooms beautiful purple, bell-shaped, veined flowers. After fertilization, they produce beautiful black berries that are particularly attractive to children. In many instances the berries have been mistaken for blueberries and other edible fruits. The result, in some instances, was death. But those who survived went through many days and nights of complete delirium accompanied by intense hallucinations.
The delirium, hallucination, and sometimes death, is due to the toxic effects of the tropane alkaloids. These are the compounds scopolamine, atropine, and hyoscyamine. The plant is mostly hyoscyamine, and when dried converts to atropine. Atropine is still present in the live plant but in lower concentration, along with scopolamine. These compounds are known as anticholinergics. Anticholinergics block acetylcholine in the brain. Acetylcholine is responsible for a variety of important functions in the body like muscle movement, coordination, breathing, among other important functions. When acetylcholine is blocked it leaves cognitive dysfunction, intense delirium with vivid hallucinations. Hallucinations that can sometimes be a complete change of scenery. Many report being with people that aren’t really there. Another common but strange and unusual effect is the smoking of phantom cigarettes. Some report amnesia from much of the experience. Most report blurry vision for 3-4 days and even up to several weeks after the trip wears off. Many who ingest belladonna report a dark, sinister and traumatic experience through the trip:
“There was lightning all around me, the sky was ripped apart and clouds sweeping by quickly, they were tinged with red. All around me (its 8.00 pm) the normally deserted park is filled with people; horrible gray shadows with back holes for eyes, there are thousands of them. The trees are dripping with blood and the ground is littered with body parts. These people are laughing at me, but I can only hear them in my head, they scream at me, horrible things about the universe coming to an end. I remember grabbing my head and screaming.”**
Her bite is not always as bitter when used in smaller amounts. She has been used in medicine for centuries for a variety of ailments. It has been taken as a narcotic for pain. It is used today to treat stomach ulcers under the name Donnatol. Belladonna was also an ingredient for the treatment of asthma in a medication called Asthmador. In the early times of Sumer and Babylon it was used to dispel evil spirits and demons of the mind. This would be known today as mental illness. Homeopathy uses belladonna in a spectrum of ways ranging from cold, flu, toothache, and upset stomach. Using atropine to dilate the pupil is practiced widely today by ophthalmologists in eye examination. Atropine is also used as an antidote to counteract the lethal effects of nerve gas from chemical warfare.
In early times to present, Deadly Nightshade has been one of the important ingredients of the witches’ flying ointment. The main ingredients of the flying ointment were Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna), Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), Mandrake (Mandragora officianarum), and Datura (Datura stramonium). Some recipe’s contained the highly poisonous plants Monkshood (Aconitum napellus), Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), and Poison Hemlock (Conium maculatum). These would be ground up and cooked in animal fat. Some sources say a child’s fat was used. But there is little evidence and was probably invented by the Catholic Church during the Inquisition. So once cooked together, the resulting mix would be a paste or salve that could be applied to the skin. And more so applied to the genitals, as the alkaloids absorb quickly into the mucus membrane.
This was said to give them the power of astral flight. Through this astral realm they could align with each other for a magical purpose or ritual. The power of flight was also accompanied by the witches’ broomstick. It is said the broomstick was used to stir and mix the ingredients when making the ointment. Afterwords, they would use the broomstick to apply it to their genitals for astral flight. This is where the Halloween imagery of a witch on the broomstick came about. An interesting but very little known piece of history on a much celebrated tradition and holiday.
Atropa belladonna, like all the tropane containing plants, is a plant of Saturn. Saturn was the God of time, the reaper. The time for harvest had associations with death and darkness. Most of the poisonous plants fall under Saturn for this reason. They bring fatal attraction in their toxic beauty. Personally, I do all my work with saturnine plants on Saturday. If you were not aware, Saturday is the day of Saturn. I start cold stratification on Saturday. Plant them on Saturday. Anything that has to be done with them is done on this day. Many times I will plant them on Saturdays in the hour of Mercury to give them the power of industry and growth. Mercury is the God of industry and prosperity. This plants them on their associated day in the name of prosperity, or growth.
The Spirit of Deadly Nightshade is a dark feminine energy. Some say she is mean. Others have found her with a sense of humor. I come to know her as a Lady to be respected as she can be quite bitter to those who underestimate her. But she is also extremely giving to those who show her the proper respect. I am getting to know her but very gradually. I have her right in my room. I have 3 plants growing quite large, and a bunch of babies in here as well. I plan to get them outside when the warm weather comes. She could easily tolerate the weather here since she goes through cold, snowy winters in her native habitat. I guess the real reason I wait is that I just like having her around I guess!
there is also a Yellow Deadly Nightshade, Atropa belladonna var. lutea. These have brilliant yellow flowers and yellow berries. It is said that witches prized this variety for it’s potency. I haven’t seen much information on the concentration of the yellow variety’s alkaloids, but such may be the case. I have some of the Yellow Deadly Nightshade in the fridge as we speak and will be planting them this coming Saturday. Along with these two, there are a variety of relatives of belladonna that I will be growing in the coming months. There is Atropa komarovii (Turkmenistan belladonna). I have some of these in the fridge ready to plant with my others. There is Atropa acuminata (Indian belladonna), Atropa caucasica (Caucasica belladonna), Atropa baetica (Iberian belladonna), among others. I plan to get them all at some point but I will stick to what I have for now…
Deadly Nightshade is among my favorites of all poisonous plants. She is majestic and dark. some confuse these as negative qualities. I have never felt her as threatening, so to speak. But she has tremendous power and one can learn a lot from her if you take it slow and get to know her gradually. I get the feeling she has to trust you before you can start to work with her. Many times I will learn from her in my dreams. That was the medium she originally called to me from. I would have dreams where I was in fields of Deadly Nightshade and the berries were so attractive and they would be dripping with dark purple juice and calling me. This was before I was able to even grow her. You can read about this in my post, A Call From the Dark Goddess…
*taken from ‘Screaming Voices’ report of a belladonna user’s trip entry