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A Magical Herbalism Lesson About Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade)

After 20 years of growing and using herbs for remedies, crafts, and magic, this freelance writer and kitchen Witch loves talking shop.

Atropa Belladonna

It is of a cold nature; in some it causeth sleep; in others madness, and, shortly after, death. — Culpeper’s Complete Herbal

Belladonna, also known to us as deadly nightshade, is one of those exotic, fascinating plants that fascinate plants that gets attention. You’ll find it peppered throughout legends and myths wherever there are Witches and poisoners. Even though it’s poisonous, belladonna is still found in many gardens, even on the side of roads or in fields near playgrounds, and packaged in herbal shops. It belongs to a large family of plants known as Solanaceae; you may be surprised to find out that many of our favorite garden veggies—peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes—belong to this family.

Belladonna—Deadly Nightshade

Another common name for this is "Witches Plant."

Another common name for this is "Witches Plant."

Belladonna Growers: Proceed With Caution!

I hesitated before adding belladonna to my magical herbalism series. I don’t want to encourage people to grow things that could hurt someone. Even today, there are still reports of people dying because they accidentally ingest the berries or are being admitted to the hospital because they play with the plant. It causes psychosis, skin irritations, and other conditions related to coming into contact with belladonna.

I ultimately decided to include it in my herbalism series because most people enjoy learning about plants like these, even though they have no intent to grow them or use them. Secondly, there’s nothing inherently bad about any plant. I think of it like heavy machinery or wild animals—it’s not for someone to casually come along and jump into out of curiosity.

Those who choose to grow or use belladonna should not do so casually, without education and forethought. You should not grow belladonna if you are:

  • New to herbs and herbalism
  • Have children or pets
  • If your plants would be easily accessible to neighbors, children & local pets
  • If you are careless about labeling and storing your herbs

However, a serious, responsible student of herbalism can enjoy working with this plant if taking the proper precautions.

Belladonna Berries

Belladonna grows to about 5 feet tall with oval leaves, purple flowers and produces very dark purple (almost black) berries.

Belladonna grows to about 5 feet tall with oval leaves, purple flowers and produces very dark purple (almost black) berries.

Details About Belladonna

Scientific name:

Atropa belladonna

Common names:

Belladonna, Bella Donna, Deadly Nightshade, Devil's Herb, Devil's Cherries, , Devil's Berries, Sorcerer's Cherry, Witches Berry, Fair Lady, Banewort, Circaeon, Poison blackberries, Suchi, Buton Noir, Cerise du diable, Cerise Enragee, Divale, Dwale, Dwayberry, Great Morel, Naught Man's Cherries

Type:

herbaceous perennial

USDA hardiness zones:

6 - 9

Gender:

Feminine

Planet:

Saturn

Element:

Water

This is NOT Belladonna

Solanum dulcamara is sometimes confused with belladonna because it is also called 'Nightshade'. It's related but not the same plant. This plant is ALSO HIGHLY TOXIC, by the way.

Solanum dulcamara is sometimes confused with belladonna because it is also called 'Nightshade'. It's related but not the same plant. This plant is ALSO HIGHLY TOXIC, by the way.

Growing Belladonna

WARNING: Belladonna can be absorbed through the skin or tiny cuts! Handle with care, and with gloves!

If you live in the right environment, you should know belladonna is a weedy plant that you won’t have a lot of trouble growing— it prefers poor soil quality on the chalky side that drains well and thrives even with neglect in the right environment. It likes partial shade or dappled light.

It’s not generally invasive; however, it may be necessary to pull plants to keep your plot contained. Growing in containers is a good idea.

They can be started by seed or by cuttings (but be careful when handling cuttings).

Some safety tips for deciding where to put your belladonna:

  • Do not grow it near edible plants and berries.
  • Do not grow it where children or pets go (it might be something better to put off if you do have young children or pets).
  • If you do have pets and want to grow it, put a fence around it to keep your pets out.
  • Do not grow it against fences where some branches might creep through into an unsuspecting neighbor’s yard.
  • Do not grow it on parts of your property where unsuspecting passers-by with children or pets might come across it.
  • Make sure to label it with multiple plant markers and warning signs.

Culinary and Craft Uses of Belladonna

Here I would generally talk about some common uses of the herb in question, but there simply are no common uses for belladonna other than to poison someone. Seriously—entire armies have been taken down by belladonna. An unfortunate troop in ancient Rome running low on food once mistook them for edible berries.

One Germanic army gave it to their enemy in a “peace offering” drink. Others have used the plant to prepare poison-tipped arrows.

Every part of this plant is poison. Even touching the plant can absorb poison into your skin. Unless an enemy army is knocking on your door, no part of this plant should ever be used in the kitchen or crafts.

Belladonna should be used strictly (and carefully) as ornamentals or as a garden curiosity. Keep it far from the kitchen.

Parts of the Belladonna Plant

Beautiful yet deadly.

Beautiful yet deadly.

Medicinal Uses of Belladonna

WARNING! Due to this plant’s toxic nature, it should never be used by home gardeners or in herbal remedies for any reason. For educational purposes only, the following is for informational purposes only and not to be taken as advice or instruction.

According to WebMD, the way belladonna works is that it has chemicals that block nervous system functions. In the past, belladonna has been used as a sedative, to ease bronchial spasms, and as a cold and allergy remedy. It’s found in old remedies for ointments used to alleviate joint pain, sciatica, and nerve pain. It’s been used to control excessive sweating and has been found in hemorrhoid suppositories. Modern chemists are exploring its potential for treating Parkinson’s, nerve problems, and some other conditions.

The medicinal biochemical in belladonna is known as atropine. This tropane alkaloid is extracted from belladonna and a few other plants in the Solanaceae family. According to the World Health Organization, it’s an essential ingredient in many pharmaceuticals. It’s used in anesthesia to decrease mucous secretions and keep the heart pumping normally.

Atropine is used as a poison treatment because it can block or reverse some of the more adverse effects of certain medicines and pesticides. It’s ironic how nature works—allowing us to derive a poison antidote from a highly poisonous plant.

Belladonna is also used medicines to dilate the pupils. This particular use may be how the plant got its name. Belladonna means “beautiful woman.” Young ladies of ancient Rome would use it to dilate the pupils to make their eyes alluring and bewitching. This practice is not without its dangers, as some of these women went blind.

AGAIN, this plant is far too DEADLY to experiment with in-home remedies. It can cause serious skin pain, blindness, or even congestive heart failure. Three berries can kill a child! Leave the atropine to the medical specialists and avoid herbal remedies with this plant altogether.

Cutting Life Short

The Fates - Atropos

The Fates - Atropos

Tell Us About You!

Magical Uses of Belladonna

Warning! Due to the toxic nature of this plant, it’s not recommended for magic and spell crafting. This entry is for informational purposes only; it is not to be taken as instruction or advice. My advice is that you read about belladonna, but do not use it. Remember that other herbs can be substituted for belladonna in spellwork.

The name “Atropa” is from “Atropos,” one of the Greek Fates. It is she who would cut the thread when it was time to end a man’s life.

Because of its toxic nature, belladonna has been used in many death potions, hexes, and curses. It’s closely associated with the underworld and used to consecrate and charge tools used to commune with spirits, or in incenses to attract the dead (never burn belladonna indoors and never directly inhale-- in fact, it’s best to skip it and use a safer alternative).

Belladonna was also occasionally found in beauty spells and potions. There’s a legend from the Middle Ages that says the plant was an enchanted being, and on certain nights it would transform into a beautiful woman who would then lure men to their deaths.

The most well-known use by far, however, is its use as an ingredient in so-called “flying ointments.” Folklore tells us these ointments were used by Witches to fly on sticks or brooms; in reality, historians suspect that these ointments were used by ancient Shamans and Witches to induce a trance state and astral projection—a whole different type of “flying.”

Some say that flying ointments were applied vaginally using a broomstick handle—though I question that claim. Witches weren’t even associated with brooms in ancient times (look at all the paintings and sketches pre-18th century; they’re on sticks, not brooms). Secondly, it just sounds like an awkward way to apply a lotion.

Many of these flying ointment recipes have survived until today, with other poisons such as datura and henbane. I recommend that you not use them as these plants can make you permanently mad (if they don’t kill you first). There are much safer alternatives to promote astral projection.

In Christian folklore, the devil loved belladonna so much he would guard it most of the year. The only safe time to harvest or kill the plant without enduring his wrath was on May Eve when he was called away for the ‘witches sabbats.’

By some accounts, belladonna was sacred to Bellona, the Roman Goddess of war. This may be another possible root of the plant’s name. Priests of Bellona would drink a belladonna infusion before prayers and meditations, which undoubtedly gave them a number of visions (mostly hallucinations, I’m guessing).

By other accounts, it was sacred to Circe, a Greek enchantress or (in some depictions) a Goddess of magic widely known for her expertise with potions and herbs. She was known for using her herbs to transform people who crossed her into animals. If you’ve read the Odyssey of Homer, the crew comes across Circe’s island in their travels. She feeds them food laced with potions that turns them into swine.

Belladonna is undoubtedly an exciting plant to learn about, or even see in person, for those who enjoy herbal magic, lore, and medicine. But as my final parting words, appreciate this plant from afar; leave the cultivation and use to experts.

Circe Offering the Cup To Ulysses

The Goddess Circe

The Goddess Circe

Belladonna Resources:

A Modern Herball by Mrs. M. Grieve (1931)

Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham

Belladonna—WebMD

Atropa belladonna—Plants for a Future

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2014 Mackenzie Sage Wright

Comments

B1ueDrag0n on July 10, 2019:

Hi Sage. I'm a fiction writing working on a story and wanted one of my characters to get poisoned by Belladonna. If a poisonous amount were ingested, would the effect be instant or would it take time? Also, is there a cure for it? Thank you for your time.

Fayleen on April 06, 2019:

Hi thanks sage thats ok:-)

Mackenzie Sage Wright (author) on April 03, 2019:

Hi Fayleen, not sure. I do my research but I'm not in the medical field.

Fayleen on March 27, 2019:

Is it used in risperedone?

Arrowz on September 06, 2018:

What about to make a flying ointment. Is v there any safe way. Or is there a less deadly herb to use. Also does it's toxicity make it usefull to put inside curse bags or are it's spiritual energies unrelated. I would assume you can't burn it in a spell for the smoke would be deadly as well