Belladonna (Atropa-Belladonna)


The plant Atropa-Belladonna, commonly known as belladonna is native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia and is a member of the nightshade plant family, also known as the Solanaceae family.The plant adopted the popular name of the “deadly nightshade” because of its extremely toxic berries and foliage. Belladonna, meaning “fair lady” in Italian was given its name because Italian women used to use the juice of the plant as a cosmetic tool. When drops of the plant’s juice come in contact with the eye, the pupils enlarge. Italian culture thought enlarged pupils enhanced the appearance of the eyes and beautified the female face. The name Atropa can be traced back to the Greek goddess Atropos who was responsible for a man’s fate in Greek mythology (Herbs to Herbs).

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Chemical Components


The belladonna plant contains the chemical substance atropine which is often used by eye doctors as a tool to dilate the pupils during an examination of the retina. The chemicals scopolamine and hyoscyamine are also found in the plant and have a sedative effect that causes the smooth muscles of the body to relax (Herbs to Herbs). The seeds of the belladonna berry also contain toxic alkaloids (Belladonna).

Plant Family and Geographic Location


The plant species belladonna is classified in the plant family Solanaceae [nightshade] which is made up of roughly 100 genera and 2600 species including several common crop and garden plants such as the potato, tobacco, chili pepper, tomato and eggplant as well as various poisonous plants. Plant members of this family usually have a weedy appearance and texture and have the ability to bear flowers with five sepals, five petals, five stamens and a solitary pistil that often ripens to a shiny black berry in most species. Members of the nightshade family are placed in a medium-size order and the belladonna specifically grows between four and five feet (Atropa).

The species originated in southern Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, but it is naturalized in different parts of North America. It flourishes in limestone-rich soils and can often be found in shady, moist locations (Atropa).

A map of U.S country distributions for the belladonna plant (CA, MI, NJ, NY, OR, WA):
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A map of U.S country distributions for the belladonna plant (CA, MI, NJ, NY, OR, WA).


Use and Efficacy


The leaf and root components of the belladonna plant are used in several medicines to treat a variety of symptoms, however, because of the plant’s high toxicity, many of these methods of medication are regarded as highly unsafe. Belladonna can be used as a sedative to treat bronchial spasms in patients suffering from asthma and whooping cough. It is also used to treat symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, colic, motion sickness, the common cold and hay fever (Belladonna).

Belladonna has been found to reduce pain and relax the smooth muscles of the body, and for that reason is a major component in ointments designed to treat joint pain [rheumatoid arthritis], leg pain [sciatica] and nerve pain [neuralgia]. Rectally, the belladonna can be used to treat hemorrhoid suppositories. The chemical components of the belladonna plant block some of the functions of the human body’s nervous system, including salivation, sweating, pupil size, urination and digestive functioning (Belladonna).

The Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database is one of the most reliable and comprehensive resources of natural medicine and rates effectiveness on a basis of scientific evidence. The database found that there was insufficient evidence to rate the effectiveness of the use of belladonna plant components to treat asthma, whooping cough, the common cold, hay fever, Parkinson’s disease, motion sickness, pain cause by arthritis, nerve pain, hemorrhoids, spasms and colic-like pain in the stomach and bile ducts as well as a variety of other conditions (Belladonna). Perhaps if more evidence of the use of belladonna components as an herbal remedy to treat these symptoms is found and studied, the database will be able to determine a higher rate of accurate effectiveness.

Side-Effects and Safety Concerns


If belladonna is ingested orally in a significant dosage, it can result in fatality due to its toxic tropane alkaloid component. Some averse side-effects include dry mouth, enlarged pupils, blurred vision, red dry skin, fever, accelerated heartbeat, inability to urinate or sweat, spasms, mental issues, convulsions and even putting a human into a comatose state (Belladonna). The scopolamine and hyoscyamine components of the belladonna plant are also responsible for causing delirium and hallucinations (Atropa).

There are moderate warnings if belladonna is taken in conjunction with certain prescribed medications. The chemical components found in belladonna have a drying effect and therefore should not be combined with anticholinergic drugs, or drying medications. If belladonna is taken with a drying medication, possible side effects may include dry skin, dizziness, low blood pressure, accelerated heart beat as well as other serious side effects. Specific examples of popular drying medications include atropine, scopolamine and antihistamines. Chemicals found in the belladonna plant may also effect the human brain and heart and therefore should not be taken with antidepressants. It is highly suggested not to mix this herbal remedy with the previously mentioned medications. There are, however, no known interactions of belladonna with other herbs, supplements or foods (Belladonna).

References


  1. "Atropa Belladonna." Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Web. 10 Jan. 2012. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atropa_belladonna>.
  2. "Belladonna." Herbs To Herbs. Web. 10 Jan. 2012. <http://www.herbs2000.com/herbs/herbs_belladonna.htm>.
  3. "Belladonna: MedlinePlus Supplements." National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. Web. 10 Jan. 2012. <http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/531.html>.