A tall, bushy plant with a disagreeable odor, belladonna is sometimes known as deadly nightshade. A member of the Solanaceae family, Atropa belladonna grows naturally in wooded or waste areas in central and southern Eurasia.

The name belladonna, meaning 'beautifullady', comes from the ancient custom of boiling the leaves and bathing the eyes with the resulting liquid to make them appear larger, brighter and glistening. The plant grows to a height of 1.5 meters and has dull, green leaves of an oval, pointed shape, which are usually 7-15 cm long. Its flowers are violet or greenish and the shiny, black berries are the size of cherries. The plant has a long, tapering root.

Although belladonna is extremely poisonous it is grown in France and other countries for the medicinal drugs that can be obtained from it. These belong to the class of alkaloids and act on the central nervous system, the smooth and cardiac muscles and the secretory glands. In particular, the extracted drugs are hyosycamine, scopolamine and atropine. They are used as sedatives, respiratory and heart stimulants, antispasmodics and to suppress saliva production. Frequent or large doses of atropine may result in poisoning although fatalities rarely occur from its use. Because of such side effects these alkaloids are now being replaced by synthetic drugs.

Not so long ago persons who were admitted to hospital in a psychotic state with fever and widely dilated pupils often turned out to have smoked excessive quantities of antiasthma cigarettes, which contained belladonna alkaloids.

More by this Author

  • How Dry Cleaning Works

    Dry Cleaning is the process of washing fabrics with liquids other than water. Dry cleaning solvents dissolve oily and fatty substances that are not soluble in water. These solvents do not swell natural fibers as water...

  • Adsorption

    Adsorption is taking up by a solid or liquid of a gas or liquid 1n contact with it. The amounts adsorbed and the rate of adsorption depend on the nature of the structure exposed, the chemical identities and...

  • Kinds of Nails and Their Uses

    Nails, used since ancient times, are still the fasteners most commonly used for joining wood, especially in building wood-frame houses. More than 60,000 nails may be used in a five-room house.


No comments yet.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article