Also known as the deadly nightshade, belladonna is a poisonous plant that can be fatal.
It is often mistaken for other berries like blackberries and blueberries for their dark coloring and plump shape. They have a sweet taste, which makes poisoning common in children who consume them. Belladonna is particularly lethal to children with 3 berries being a fatal dosage.
In this article, we cover exactly what belladonna is, what the symptoms of its poisoning are, and some of the ways it is treated.
Find out more about Belladonna poisoning cases at TruLaw.
What Is Belladonna?
The scientific name is atropa belladonna, atropa meaning “unturning one” for its poisonous nature. The belladonna comes from the Italian for “beautiful woman” due to its previous use as a cosmetic item. In the Renaissance period, women used to use the juices of the belladonna as eye drops in order to make their pupils dilated, which was seen as an attractive and seductive trait.
It is a member of the nightshade family Solanaceae along with tomatoes, eggplant, and bell peppers. It is a toxic flower with all parts of it being poisonous with the root being especially deadly. It is toxic due to the number of tropane alkaloids in it.
It is native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia but has been introduced to parts of Canada and the United States.
It has been used throughout history as both a medicine and a poison. It was particularly known as a poison in ancient Roman times with a rumor that Roman Empress Livia Drusilla murdered her husband Emperor Augustus with it.
What Are The Symptoms?
There are a large variety of symptoms associated with belladonna poisoning. You can gain these symptoms from consuming it orally, or simply touching belladonna.
It commonly affects the eyes, as shown by previous cosmetic use of it. It can dilate the pupils, cause a sensitivity to light, and blur vision.
It can cause headaches, loss of balance, slurred speech, delirium, hallucinations, and dizziness. Due to the physical effect on the mind, belladonna can have worse symptoms for people with psychiatric disorders.
Other symptoms include dry mouth and throat, constipation, vomiting, slowed breathing, and rashes.
Other clinical conditions that worsen the effects of belladonna are complications of pregnancy, gastrointestinal disorders, and cardiovascular diseases.
Belladonna is deadly due to its effects on involuntary actions. It can slow and possibly stop breathing, heart rate, and sweating.
As well as being toxic to humans, belladonna is also lethal to many domestic animals. It can cause paralysis and possibly death.
Some animals like cattle, rabbits, and birds aren’t affected by belladonna. Its seeds are commonly spread by birds through their droppings.
How Is It Treated?
There are 2 main antidotes to belladonna, physostigmine and pilocarpine. Physostigmine is a highly toxic parasympathomimetic alkaloid and pilocarpine is a medication that is used to treat pressure behind the eyes and dry mouth.
An immediate action that is sometimes advised by professionals is to induce vomiting. This should not be done unless advised otherwise. The aim of this is to purge the belladonna from the body. Sometimes activated charcoal would be swallowed in order to neutralize some of the toxins. Activated charcoal also has the adverse effect of neutralizing most medications that people are on.
If administered to a hospital, the patient will be put on breathing support in order to reduce the more lethal symptoms of belladonna poison. They may also be x-rayed to assess any damage.
IV will be administered to keep the body hydrated and aim to flush out the toxins from the body.
What To Do If It Is Growing In Your Garden
Belladonna is quite rare but it is not impossible to find it growing due to its rapid growth.
It can grow to be quite tall and has oval leaves, bell-shaped purple flowers, and black berries.
When removing it, cover all of your skin and wear gloves and a face mask. Ensure all of the plant is removed as it can grow back from even the smallest amount of root.
While belladonna is a rare plant, it is not completely illegal to cultivate in Southern and Eastern Europe, Brazil, Pakistan, and North America. This is because it has medicinal uses and is found in some medications. As an ingredient, it is being slowly faded out for safer alternatives.
If you have consumed belladonna or are experiencing multiple of the above symptoms, call poison control or emergency services immediately.