Deadly Nightshade - Belladonna
The Deadly Nightshade or Belladonna berries (in size like small cherries) are of a rich purplish black hue, and possess most dangerously narcotic properties. They are medicinally useful, but so deadly that only the skilled hands of the apothecary should attempt to manipulate them
Deadly Nightshade or Belladonna is a Solanaceous plant found native in Great Britain, and growing generally on chalky soil under hedges, or about waste grounds. It bears the botanical name of Atropa, being so called from one of the classic Fates,—she who held the shears to cut the thread of human life:—
"Clotho velum retinet, Lachesis net, et atropos occit."
Its second title, Belladonna, was bestowed because the Spanish ladies made use of the plant to dilate the pupils of their brilliant black eyes. In this way their orbs appeared more attractively lustrous: and the donna became bella (beautiful).
The plant is distinguished by a large leaf growing beside a small one about its stems, whilst the solitary flowers, which droop, have a dark full purple border, being paler downwards, and without scent. The Deadly Nightshade or Belladonna berries (in size like small cherries) are of a rich purplish black hue, and possess most dangerously narcotic properties. They are medicinally useful, but so deadly that only the skilled hands of the apothecary should attempt to manipulate them; and they should not be prescribed for a patient except by the competent physician. When taken by accident their mischievous effects may be prevented by swallowing as soon as possible a large glass of warm vinegar.
A tincture of allied berries was used of old by ladies of fashion in the land of the Pharaohs, as discovered among the mummy graves by Professor Baeyer, of Munich. This had the property of imparting a verdant sheen to the human iris; and, perhaps by the quaint colour-effect it produced on the transparent cornea of some wily Egyptian belle, it gave rise to the saying, "Do you see any green in the white of my eye?"
At one time Belladonna leaves were held to be curative of cancer when applied externally as a poultice, either fresh, or dried, and powdered. It is remarkable that sheep, rabbits, goats, and swine can eat these leaves with impunity, though (as Boerhaave tells) a single berry has been known to prove fatal to the human subject; and a gardener was once hanged for neglecting to remove plants of the deadly Night Shade from certain grounds which he knew.
A peculiar symptom in those poisoned by Belladonna berries is the complete loss of voice, together with frequent bending forward of the trunk, and continual movements of the hands and fingers. The Scotch under Macbeth sent bread and wine treacherously impregnated with this poison to the troops of Sweno.
The plant bears other titles, as "Dwale" (death's herb), "Great Morel," and "Naughty Man's Cherry." The term "Morel" is applied to the plant as a diminutive of mora, a Moor, on account of the black-skinned berries. The Belladonna grows especially near the ruins of monasteries, and is so abundant around Furness Abbey that this locality has been styled the "Vale of Night Shade."
Hahnemann taught that, acting on the law of similars, Belladonna given in very small doses of its tincture will protect from the infection of scarlet fever. He confirmed this fact by experiments on one hundred and sixty children. When taken by provers in actual toxic doses the tincture, or the fresh juice, has induced sore throat, feverishness, and a dry, red, hot skin, just as if symptomatic of scarlet fever. The plant yields atropine and hyoscyamine from all its parts. As a drug it specially affects the brain and the bladder. The berries are known in Buckinghamshire as "Devil's cherries."