Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects

Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects

Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) Overview

Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) other names: Atropa belladonna, Atropa acuminata, Baccifère, Belladona, Belladone, Belle-Dame, Belle-Galante, Bouton Noir, Cerise du Diable, Cerise Enragée, Cerise d’Espagne, Deadly Nightshade, Devil's Cherries, Devil's Herb, Divale, Dwale, Dwayberry, Grande Morelle, Great Morel, Guigne de la Côte, Herbe à la Mort, Herbe du Diable, Indian Belladonna, Morelle Furieuse, Naughty Man's Cherries, Poison Black Cherries, Suchi.

The plant commonly known as the belladonna is a medium sized perennial shrub. Belladonna can grow from two to six feet in height; belladonna normally bears two or three branches and has a distinct purplish colored stem. 

The belladonna bears dark green leaves and each individual leaf is about three to ten inches in length from base to tip. The belladonna also gives off distinct bell shaped flowers which are dark purple in color. The belladonna gives out a strong odor when it is crushed or bruised. The belladonna is an extremely poisonous plant and all parts of the plant contain this poison.

Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) image

This plant is also known by the popular name of “deadly nightshade." Since the plant is poisonous, using it as a home remedy would be bad judgment indeed. However, despite the very grim reputation that is associated with the plant, the Italians have named the plant belladonna or the "fair lady" in Italian - a name by which it is also known universally. This Italian name of the plant came about according to one story, as Italian women in the past used to drop the juice on their eyes so as to enlarge the pupils, thus it was used to enhance the appearance of the eyes - a cosmetic effect that beautified the appearance of the face.

Belladonna was recognized as a very poisonous plant even by early Greeks such as Theophrastus, way back in the third century B.C. The term "the Mandragora of Theophrastus" was often used to describe the plant. The plant's English name, Dwaule, was a derivative of the Dutch word dwaal, which means “to wander or to be delirious”. The belladonna is a perennial plant, it may be considered to be one of the more important species in the nightshade family of plants. The ancient Greeks gave it the name Atropos, as it was so poisonous, this is the Greek word for inflexible or rigid. The word “atropos” can also be a reference to "one of three Fates who cut the thread of life" in Greek mythology.

The belladonna is cultivated world wide, but belladonna was originally a native species of Europe, growing in the wild in parts of Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. The species grows well in soils that have a chalky composition; belladonna thrives in woods and on waste grounds. The leaves of the plant are collected in the summer months, while the roots are dug up in the fall.

Plants grown in sunny and dry seasons typically had the highest percentage of alkaloid yields compared to plants grown in other seasons.

The alkaloid content of individual plants did not show any marked variation at different stages of growth when plants were tested from June to September. However, the alkaloid content of individual plants begins to fade in the fall and there is rapid loss of alkaloids, therefore, the ideal time to gather leaves may be from the month of June in the summer until the falling of the leaves and shoots in late fall.

The origin of this species is probably southern Europe and continental Asia, however, the plant is naturalized in many other parts of the world including the new world. The belladonna produces green berries that change to a shiny purplish black color as they ripen. The berries are about the size of the common cherry, however, all are not agreed on the taste of the berries - some say the berry tastes sweet while others say that it tastes bitter. Many people at the same time say that the entire plant possesses a very nauseating odor and they cannot stand the smell.

Belladonna plants are vulnerable to pests such as the flea beetle and the potato beetle even though they are usually high yielding; they are also very susceptible to wilt disease. Once the plant is in full bloom, it can be harvested. 

Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) Health Benefits

The name “belladonna” means “beautiful lady,” and was chosen because of a risky practice in Italy. The belladonna berry juice was used historically in Italy to enlarge the pupils of women, giving them a striking appearance. This was not a good idea, because belladonna can be poisonous.

Though widely regarded as unsafe, belladonna is used as a sedative, to stop bronchial spasms in asthma and whooping cough, and as a cold and hay fever remedy. Belladonna is also used for Parkinson's disease, colic, motion sickness, and as a painkiller.

Remedies prepared from the belladonna plant are normally prescribed to bring a relaxing effect on distended organs; this is particularly beneficial for patients with problems in the stomach and the intestines. The remedies made from the belladonna are also helpful in bringing relief from intestinal colic and pain in the abdominal region. The belladonna remedies help in dealing with peptic ulcers, and belladonna can also help relax spasms along the urinary tubules.

The remedies made from the belladonna can also be used in treating the physical symptoms seen in people affected by Parkinson's disease, the herbal remedy helps in reducing the tremors and lessens the rigidity in the body, and improves speech and mobility in the patient at the same time.

Belladonna with its ability to bring a relaxing effect on the smooth muscles relaxant is useful in conventional medicine where belladonna is made into an anesthetic, especially in procedures where digestive or bronchial secretions must be kept suppressed. The therapeutic belladonna dosage level is almost equal to the toxic dose, and the dosage regimen must always be monitored. Patients given belladonna at excessive dosage levels can suffer from respiratory paralysis, they may even go into a coma, and in some cases death may also be the unfortunate result.

Belladonna has narcotic effects, belladonna is also a known diuretic, and in addition, belladonna possesses sedative, antispasmodic and mydriatic effects. As far as the treatment of eye diseases is concerned, the belladonna scores high marks. The alkaloid known as atropine, which is extracted from the plant is the most important chemical constituent due to its ability of dilating the pupil in the eye. The pupils of a person are dilated with atropine no matter how it is used, consumed internally or injected under the skin the dilation in the pupil is always the first effect. However, when it is dropped directly on the eye, the effect occurs much more rapidly and a smaller volume of diluted atropine usually suffices for the purpose. 

Atropine is however, a very potent poison, the doses of atropine given to a patient for consumption is exceedingly minute, only about 1/200 to 1/100 grain is given as a dose to any patient. Atropine is also injected subcutaneously and used as an antidote for opium, this chemical has also been utilized in cases of poisoning induced by calabar bean, and it also finds use in some cases of chloroform poisoning. Large doses of atropine can paralyze the nerve endings of involuntary muscles, though it induces no effect on the voluntary muscles, the danger is that the paralysis of the nerve endings found on involuntary muscles will finally affect the central nervous system, and this situation will induce sudden mental excitement and delirium progressing to other severe problems for the patient.

Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) flower

All the different herbal preparations and remedies made using the belladonna have many medicinal uses. When the topical remedy is applied locally on the skin, it acts to lessen irritability and pain, and belladonna is used as a topical herbal lotion. This remedy is sometimes used as a plaster or liniment to treat cases of neuralgia, gout, rheumatism and sciatica in a person affected by such disorders. 

When the belladonna is used as a drug, belladonna is particularly good for its action on the brain and the urinary bladder in disorders connected to these organs. Belladonna remedies are used to stanch excessive secretions, and also in reducing inflammation in the body. The remedy is also used to lessen sweating symptomatic of phthisis and other physically exhausting diseases that affect people around the world. Used in small doses, the remedy can reduce heart palpitation, and a plaster of the remedy applied to the chest over the cardiac region will help eliminate pain and distress felt by the patient.

The remedy made from the belladonna is also a very powerful anti-spasmodic and aids in dealing with intestinal colic and spasmodic asthma. To help bring relief from spasmodic asthma, cigarettes made from the leaves of the belladonna are occasionally given to patients. The remedy is ideal for children, they tolerate the remedy well even when it is prescribed in large doses for treating disorders such as whooping cough and false croup - two very common diseases in children.

Belladonna also has a very effective action on the circulation in the body, and belladonna is usually given in cases of the pulmonary collapse during pneumonia - belladonna is also used in treating typhoid fever and many acute diseases. Belladonna can actively hike the heart beat rate to 20 to 40 beats per minute, without lessening the pressure. The remedy is also effective in treating an acute case of soreness in the throat, and actively aids in bringing relief from local inflammation and congestion in the chest.

Belladonna is used in ointments that are applied to the skin for joint pain (rheumatism), leg pain caused by a disc in the backbone pushing on the sciatic nerve (sciatica), and nerve pain (neuralgia). Belladonna is also used in plasters (medicine-filled gauze applied to the skin) for treating psychiatric disorders, a behavior disorder called hyperkinesis, excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis), and bronchial asthma.

Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) Side effects

Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) Overview, Health Benefits, Side effects
Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna) plant

Belladonna is likely unsafe when taken by mouth. Belladonna contains chemicals that can be toxic.

Side effects can include dry mouth, enlarged pupils, blurred vision, red dry skin, fever, fast heartbeat, inability to urinate or sweat, hallucinations, spasms, mental problems, convulsions, and coma.

Pregnancy and breast-feeding: Belladonna is likely unsafe when taken by mouth during pregnancy. Belladonna contains potentially toxic chemicals and has been linked to reports of serious side effects. Belladonna is also likely unsafe during breast-feeding. Belladonna can reduce milk production and also passes into breast milk.

Congestive heart failure (CHF): Belladonna might cause rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) and might make CHF worse.

Constipation: Belladonna might make constipation worse.

Down syndrome: People with Down syndrome might be extra-sensitive to the potentially toxic chemicals in belladonna and their harmful effects.

Esophageal reflux: Belladonna might make esophageal reflux worse.

Fever: Belladonna might increase the risk of overheating in people with fever.

Stomach ulcers: Belladonna might make stomach ulcers worse.

Gastrointestinal (GI) tract infections: Belladonna might slow emptying of the intestine, causing retention of bacteria and viruses that can cause infection.

Gastrointestinal (GI) tract blockage: Belladonna might make obstructive GI tract diseases (including atony, paralytic ileus, and stenosis) worse.

Hiatal hernia: Belladonna might make hiatal hernia worse.

High blood pressure: Taking large amounts of belladona can increase blood pressure. This might make blood pressure become too high in people with high blood pressure.

Narrow-angle glaucoma: Belladonna might make narrow-angle glaucoma worse.

Psychiatric disorders. Taking larga mounts of belladonna might worsen psychiatric disorders.

Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia): Belladonna might make rapid heartbeat worse.

Ulcerative colitis: Belladonna might promote complications of ulcerative colitis.

Difficulty urinating (urinary retention): Belladonna might make this urinary retention worse.