Belladonna: properties, cultivation and contraindications
Belladonna: therapeutic and beneficial properties
Considered by many to be one of the potentially most dangerous medicinal herbs, Belladonna is not without benefits, however, and for many centuries was used as an anesthetic, but also used as a powerful poison.
It is widespread mainly in the uncultivated and sunny areas of the Mediterranean, and belongs to the Solanaceae family.
The active ingredients of Belladonna are due to an alkaloid called Atropine, able to stop bronchial secretions, but also to change the heartbeat, and influence the vagus nerve.
Among its active ingredients there are also scopolamine and Hysociamina, used in today’s medicine.
Attributes and requirements for cultivation:
|Botanical Name:||Atropa Belladonna|
|Sun||Half shade, shadow|
|Ground||Light, drained, calcareous|
|Composting||On weak plants with nitrogen and potassium|
|Flowering||From June to September|
|Pests and diseases||Rottenness, beetles|
Belladonna can easily be found in areas between 500 and 1500 meters, as its favorite habitat in Italy includes pre-Alpine and Apennine areas, we find it almost everywhere.
A drug called atropine is refined from Belladonna.
It has long been known for its use in medicine and cosmetics, even before the Middle Ages. While it was used by the Romans as a poison and tradition has it that it was exploited to eliminate some wives of different Emperors. It was also used more commonly in hunting, the arrowheads were soaked in a mixture of Belladonna to speed up the death of the prey during the hunt.
How to recognize the Belladonna
- As a perennial herb, the Belladonna has a woody shrub that can grow up to 1.5 meters in height. The dark green leaves are recognizable by their oval appearance which can reach up to 17 centimeters.
- Belladonna has bell-shaped flowers, which appear between June and July, and are purple with green stamens. There is also a variety that produces yellow flowers called lutea.
- With a diameter of about 1 centimeter, the berries of the Belladonna initially have a green color, which with maturation reaches a black and violet graduation but has a very shiny surface. Several species of animals are fond of these berries for their sweet taste.
- Belladonna is considered to be primarily a weed due to its unaesthetic appearance, and for this reason its main diffusion in gardens and fields is through birds and animals that act as a vehicle for seeds.
- Home cultivation is hampered by the need for seed vernalization, a necessary process that sees the passage of an animal into the stomach, in other words, to cultivate the nightshade you have to get your hands dirty.
Contraindications and warnings
Belladonna poisoning symptoms have made it famous as a drug, as unsuspecting individuals consume the berries for their sweet taste and are involved in states of hallucination. But we pay much attention as these berries can be deadly in any case.
Uses in herbal medicine and natural remedies
Belladonna is used extensively in cosmetics, phytotherapy and in the preparation of some drugs. Belladonna’s properties include:
- Relieves menstrual pain
- Useful against allergies
- Relieve ulcers and gastric pains
The active ingredients of Belladonna act positively on the nervous system, acting as an anesthetic and as a stimulant on the central nervous system. Belladonna also includes anti-inflammatory properties useful in cases of sore throats and breakdowns, but also allergic rhinitis or conjunctiva in the case of eye inflammation.
It also acts positively against headaches and skin problems such as acne. It can also be used to treat insomnia to benefit from it.
In homeopathy, Belladonna is mainly used for the respiratory system and in particular for possible infections. It can also be useful for inflammation of the ears such as otitis.
This officinal herb also becomes useful in case of fever, and has a positive influence even in case of high blood pressure.
How to grow Belladonna
Before cultivating Belladonna it is good to consider why this plant is not normally grown in gardens. Black berries can be accidentally mistaken for blueberries by uncultivated people or worse, children. The same for pets that can find them harmful or serve as a vehicle for dissemination.
Regardless of this, Belladonna is massively grown by the pharmaceutical and phytotherapeutic industry for its benefits provided by the extracts present in the roots.
If you intend to cultivate the Belladonna we recommend choosing an enclosed land, possibly away from roads, but still sunny and possibly with a light and calcareous soil.
Sun exposure is also fundamental, preferring if it is south-west facing. Do not overdo the fertilizer if the plants are already strong. If instead these are fragile and struggle to grow, a manure containing nitrogen can undoubtedly help.
When to start sowing?
Reiterating what we have already emphasized above, the sowing of Belladonna is a complex process. After vernalization, they must spend a period in the cold, the refrigerator is also fine. Before this, however, it is advised to soak them in warm water to kill germs and parasites that can damage the buds.
Sowing begins in March, the seeds must be carefully inserted into a bed of light, well-drained soil. Belladonna has a slow germination, between four and six weeks. It is advisable to prepare many seeds because germination is a process with a low success rate.
After the eventual growth, the best time to transfer the plants to the open ground is during the May meso, while being careful that the month is not too cold and the rains are not excessive.
Belladonna loves shady places, but we must pay particular attention to cold spells especially out of season as they can kill her. From a year after insertion, cover the plant’s foot before winter arrives to protect it.
However, we keep in mind that even the summer period is very at risk due to pests and weeds, thus making cleaning a very important process.
As for the crop for phytotherapic purpose, it is necessary to wait until the third year of age, generally it is advisable to divide the harvest into two separate cycles: one towards May and one towards mid-September. However we take care not to undress the plant too much, choosing only the perfect leaves, absent from any trace of parasites.
However, as far as the roots are concerned, in general and especially at the industrial level, this happens when the plants reach at least six years of age. After being extracted from the soil, the roots are washed and dried.
The parasites of Belladonna
Belladonna growers must be especially careful about pests such as beetles. In case of too intense exposure to the sun or dry soil, the plant will be more vulnerable. It is therefore advisable to keep the soil always quite humid, but not excessively and keep the nightshade away from excessive sun.
Toxicity and antidotes
Belladonna berries are one of the most poisonous fruits in Europe. In addition to being commonly mistaken for blueberries by children, they also have a sweetish aroma and taste, making them inviting despite the danger.
Typically an adult man can die after consuming two to five berries. The most toxic part of Belladonna, however, is the root, but this varies acording to the variety of Belladonna and the way in which it was cultivated.
Even the leaves if consumed can be extremely harmful. Animals such as sheep, rabbits, goats and pigs have no difficulty in consuming the plant, as well as many birds, which are the main means of seed spreading.
But be careful, dogs and cats are sensitive and may be affected.
In the case of berry consumption, you must immediately go to the emergency room and to a poison control center. Typically the most used antidotes are pilocarpine and physostigmine.