Belladonna" is the Latin for this unusual plant. The great
naturalist, Linneaeus, named it this; he is reputed to have been
so familiar with the nature and properties of plants that he was
almost always able to find amazingly appropriate names for them.
Belladonna is a good example of this because the generic name refers
to the Greek Fate Atropos, the inflexible one, who cuts the thread
of life. The species name is somewhat debated about; "Belladonna"
is Spanish for @#145;beautiful woman@#146; and also means the same
in Italian. It most probably refers to the fact that ladies in the
Spanish court used the juice of the plant which contains atropine,
dissolved in water, and ingested, to dilate their pupils to make
them look more dreamy and beautiful.
Elling, in his book "Shakespeare, an insight into his world
and its Poetry", 1959, says "The name Belladonna originates
from the fact that the said drops give to the woman who desires
to please, the eyes of a Medusa, large, staring and hypnotic".
Linneaus@#146; time, deadly nightshade was included in the genus
Slanum, and it was known under a number of specific names, some
of which almost amounted to abuse, which indicates the reputation
the plant had gained in the course of time. Here are some of them:
furiale @#150; raving, mortiferum @#150; fatal, laethale @#150;
lethal, hypnoticon @#150; hypnotic or spellbinding and somniferum
@#150; soporific. The common names were of the same kind, such as
Sorcerer@#146;s cherry, witches@#146; berry, murderer@#146;s berry
is an extremely old term and is an English medieval name for the
plant and as the word dvale (trance) is of old Norse origin, it
is conceivable that this plant was in use in the North before Scandinavian
migration to England took place.
Gerard, an Herbalist, wrote that the name Belladonna referred to
the fact that ladies used a solution of the juice to remove redness
from their cheeks. Another source maintains that the reddish-purple
juice was used as rouge to return red to the cheeks.
popular tradition has it that the plant is called Belladonna because
it is a magical herb which sometimes changes into a beautiful lady
who unfortunately is mortally dangerous to meet. It has also been
claimed that the Romans dedicated the herb to the goddess Bellona,
whose priest drank the juice of deadly nightshade before the rituals
connected with her worship. With the advent of Christianity the
goddess was forgotten and the name was corrupted from Bellona to
Michelet, who wrote so understandingly about witches, was of the
opinion that the name was coned because deadly nightshade was the
herb of "the good ones", "the beautiful women",
that is of the wise women and the witches.
nightshade is a perennial herb with a sturdy branched stalk which
can brow up to about three feet tall, with elliptical oviform leaves
of a medium green colour and brown-purple bell shaped flowers. Its
shining black berries are about one centimeter round and contain
a large number of seeds and a dark, inky, very sweet juice. All
parts of the plant are poisonous. The main alkaloid is hyoscyamine
and the herb also contains small amounts of atropine and belladonnine,
which have somewhat different effects. The sweet- tasting berries
are a great temptation to children and animals and can be fatal
if they eat a few too many.
affects of ingesting the herb are, in mind amounts, a happy feeling
and the same sense of timelessness and philosophical thought going
on in your mind similar to the first stage of intoxication through
hashish. Next comes a sleep which is accompanied by erotic dreams.
A medium dose of deadly nightshade would produce a dry mouth and
itching and irritation, followed by nausea and dizziness, followed
by a deep sleep. Severe poisoning causes paroxysms of rage, blindness
and paralysis and then coma occurs, usually followed by death from
paralysis of the respiratory system. One would have to eat quite
a number of berries to get to this stage.
herb is effective whether dried or fresh, however the hysoscyamine
in the fresh plant turns into atropine when the plant is dried.
However, the difference between the two alkaloids is so little that
it cannot be expressed in chemical formula.
is reported that the maenads of Dionysian orgies with "dilated"
eyes cast themselves into the arms of the male worshippers and that,
at other times, with eyes "flaming with wildness", they
threw themselves onto all the men they met on the way to tear them
apart and devour them. This wildness could be indicative of deadly
nightshade juice mixed with their wine. They definitely had thornapple
juice in the wine, which is another deadly herb.
to the English doctor and herbalist, Nicholas Culpeper (1616-1654)
there is a strange example of the plant@#146;s fateful consequences
in Buchanan@#146;s "History of Scotland" which describes
the destruction of Sweno@#146;s army after it invaded Scotland.
This happened because the Scots, in agreement with the armistice
conditions, sent mead to the Danes which, however, "was mixed
with the juice of a poisonous herb, abundance of which grows in
Scotland, called Sleepy Nightshade". The Danes became so drunk
on the mead that the scots were able to fall upon and kill the majority
of the Danes while they slept, so that there were scarcely enough
of them left to bring their king to safety. The Danish King Sweno
was in reality Svein Knutson, King of Norway (1030-1035) who tried
to win Scotland from Duncan the First. The Scots leader on this
occasion was Earl Macbeth the model for Shakespeare@#146;s tragic
play of the same name, which has the famous witch scenes with the
three weird sisters.
1943, when it was discovered by the Allies that the Germans had
made a terrible nerve gas that was both odourless and colourless,
Atropine, from deadly nightshade was the only antidote against it.
Fortunately, they never had to use it because the enemy never used
the gas on them.
nightshade was used in various witch@#146;s brews and particularly
in many flying ointment recipes from Germany and France.
herb grows wild in Australia, however it is often hard to find.
I found quite a large amount of it growing in a car park in suburban
St Kilda, however, the council took it away eventually. In Guildford,
I@#146;ve spied a few plants growing wild on hilltops inside old
tree stumps, hiding away from the farmer with his bottles of chemical
herb is best cultivated in half shade on chalky, well fertilized
soil which is sheltered from the wind. It tends to wilt in summer
so a water spray would do it some good. As the germination percentage
is very low, it is most practical to sow the seeds in seed-beds
for later transplanting to an area either well-fenced off or hedged
in so that no accidental poisoning can occur. Keep away from children
and animals - ingestion can be fatal.
Donna (by Rowan)
so, as always there is only you,
Demanding only total enslavement,
Reaching out to me, once, and I follow, as always
There only ever really was you.
beckoned to me as I stood on the threshold, you called out
to me as I wandered, sadly; through the dry, silent lake-bed,
limping through an arid land, through the white fingers of
a cruel hand, the skeleton of love.
lady without compassion, the raven waits on your shoulder,
the eyes of Bella Donna are dark and hard, but the lips
of the angel deny it.
Beautiful lady without love, they say, the merlin perches
on your perfect wrist, close to your long, white-boned hand.
Reaching to me from your frail fairy-land, rapt in the songs
and the love that you promised.
the birds sing for days in your enchanted forest, and the
shades round your eyes that deepen at night, dark like the
chasm of limitless sky, with only the glints of the stars
to assure us, to guide us back down to the earth.
lady, heartless, it@#146;s said that your touch wakens souls
in the land of the dead, but the living, they shudder, they
are loath to walk blind into total enchantment, through
the soft mists of hair encircling your face and the cold
bones concealing your mind.
so, as always, there is only you, Rigantona, riding your pale
mare in the fading twilight, that fey, fleeting equinox of
bright day and night; that quicksilver flicker of elusive
delight. There only ever, really, was you.
lady, loveless, they will say when you play games with Fate,
with those eyes like black dice, when those fingers like
long, bleeding darts deal the cards. Queen of Hearts, Priestess,
Black Widow, she too.
are not only just pictures of fortune or ruin, they are the
myriad, emerging and merging as one in the thrice-blessed,
bestial beauty of you.