Night Shade Deadly (_belladonna_)

This 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 S

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

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?

[389] 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.