I recently watched MatPat’s video about Snow White and I was more than a little intrigued about his mentions of Belladona. I’ll post the video at the end so you can see for yourself. Atropa Belladonna has an interesting history having been used as medicine, cosmetic and poison. I know it best for its use as a poison since it was popular during the Middle Ages and made it into a few historical fictions I’ve read over the years. It’s a pretty difficult plant to cultivate since it typically needs to be passed through an animal’s digestive tract, but it is possible and is in fact part of the poison garden at Alnwick Castle.
Belladonna is part of the nightshade family and while Belladonna itself is quite toxic, other family members like potato, bell peppers, tomato and eggplant are much more innocent. Belladonna was apparently regularly consumed for its hallucinogenic effects, which you could get out of a few berries, but take ten (or three as a child) and you risk a fatality.
In cosmetic terms Belladonna was used in eyedrops to dilate the pupil. Why you’d want to risk blindness for a doe-eyed expression is beyond me, but women have done many questionable things in the pursuit of beauty.
Belladonna is apparently used as a medication for Parkinson’s to treat tremors, salivation and sweating. It is also used to treat motion sickness, nausea, and menstrual cramping. Who knew? The effects of belladonna, when appropriately administered cause something called the Twilight Sleep, which is essentially a waking state where you don’t experience pain (or at least no memory of having felt pain). This was one of the techniques used by Queen Victoria during some of her many childbirths. The difficulty with belladonna’s use in childbirth is that it resulted in babies who had difficulty breathing and also mothers who could not actually remember having given birth. It is also apparently used as a recreational drug, but the hallucinations tend to last for days at a time and are supposedly rather terrifying for people, soooo maybe avoid belladonna for your fix.
Belladonna’s most famous use is as a poison and was apparently quite well favored by the Roman elites in ancient times, as well as medieval Europe.
Belladonna has a really interesting history and I’m always fascinated by the diverse uses and culture surrounding various plants. I may do a few more of these on some of the really neat historically valued ones.
Thanks for stopping by!