Belladonna or more commonly known as deadly nightshade is a toxic perennial plant belonging to the nightshade family, Solanaceae.
It has a widespread distribution all over the world with its main natural habitat being the Mediterranean regions, Eastern Asia and Northern Africa.
Belladonna is found in Spain, Italy, Morocco, Egypt, Iraq and Iran and is a widespread plant, although some parts of its native habitat have been affected by human activities. The red berries are usually harvested when ripe and dried and the berries contain bitter juices which are used for teas, perfumes, medicines and culinary uses. In traditional medicine, belladonna is used as an anti-inflammatory agent and for stomach problems, nausea, vomiting and flatulence.
Belladonna has long been used for treatment of stomach problems, stomach aches and spasms, digestive disorders, diarrhea and as a painkiller. However, the exact effects of belladonna on the human body are not fully understood; it is known to produce some degree of toxicity, but no direct long-term effects have been observed.
When ingested, belladonna acts on the intestinal lining causing intestinal obstruction, resulting in the temporary or sometimes permanent stoppage of digestion. This in turn results in loss of appetite and vomiting; however, Belladona is not considered dangerous when consumed in small amounts and does not appear to be harmful to pregnant women or nursing infants.
Because of the similarity in name to the well known lethal eveningshade (containing the chemical belladonna), some experts believe that the plant is a variant of the deadly nightshade. But others believe that the two are actually unrelated. Many of the same characteristics of belladonna can be found in other species of the nightshade family, so it is possible that belladonna is related to other varieties of the Solanaceae family.
Other plants in this family including strychnos nuxvomica, strychnos garments and crocodylium are also poisonous when eaten.
Because belladonna has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes, we are all very familiar with its effects on humans and therefore it is considered a relatively harmless plant, but what effect does it have on animals and birds? The fact that it is poisonous to humans, in particular children, should not alarm any animal unless it is mixed with another poisonous plant, as Belladona contains a compound which can be toxic to certain animals (mammalian).
Animals, such as the rats and mice, can die from consuming belladonna. Even birds, the so called ‘nightmare rats’ at the Zoological Gardens of Vienna, may be poisoned by belladonna as well as birds and reptiles including snakes. A poison which is toxic to humans is also dangerous to animals and birds.
As mentioned earlier, the red berries of belladonna are used for tea, but some people take it as a tea made from belladonna to treat stomach complaints, headaches, nausea, vomiting, flatulence, intestinal cramps, etc. As a food supplement, the berries are taken as a juice and mixed with honey.
It is quite effective in treating stomach pains, as it is extremely bitter and can easily cause vomiting and indigestion, so belladonna acts as an analgesic. It is also said to have anti-inflammatory properties and it helps in preventing the absorption of cholesterol from the digestive tract.
As a natural food supplement, the berry can also be used topically on the skin to treat rash and burn injuries and to prevent infection, but belladonna should not be taken internally due to its dangerous side-effects. Although belladonna has no poisonous side-effects in animals, it can be fatal in case of overdose, which may lead to convulsions and paralysis.
One of the most important uses of belladonna is in the treatment of abdominal pain. However, because of its side-effects, belladonna should not be taken internally or orally, as the medicine may interfere with the blood vessels or other internal organs.
Since belladonna is quite toxic and has a variety of side-effects in humans and animals, belladonna should not be consumed by pregnant women and nursing babies. The berries should never be swallowed raw, because they contain a number of toxic substances, which may lead to poisoning and death.