BELLADONNA (Atropa belladonna)

Page by Karine Alexana Montinola


She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said—
‘I love thee true’.

She took me to her Elfin grot,
And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.

And there she lullèd me asleep,
And there I dreamed—Ah! woe betide!—
The latest dream I ever dreamt
On the cold hill side.

-John Keats, La Belle Dame sans Merci

Belladonna is an entirely poisonous plant from the Solanaceae (nightshade) family. Herbaceous and perennial, it is native to Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa. It is also known as Deadly Nightshade, devil's cherry, and dwale. Like several other plants of the nightshade family, it is a source of Atropine. The Atropine in belladonna is its main asset--the source of all its 'dark magic'.


Origin of name.


Bella donna is Italian for 'beautiful woman', bella meaning 'beautiful' and donna meaning woman. The 16th century herbalist John Gerard wrote in Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes: 'In English Dwale or sleeping Nightshade: the Venetians and Italians call it Bella dona'.

Atropa is a name derived from one of the three Fates of Greek myth, Atropos. Of the three Fates, Atropos was the one who cut the thread of life, bringing death to all mortals at their given time and sealing away their fate.


Order: Solanales
Family: Solanaceae
Genus: Atropa
Species: Atropa belladonna


The Belladonna is an herbaceous perennial that grows to about 5 feet tall, sometimes to (rarely) 6 feet tall. The stem is purplish; the leaves are darkish green, oval-shaped and pointed; the flowers are a darkish purple with a greenish tinge, tubular in shape; and the fruits are berries that ripen from green to red, and finally an attractive shiny black with dark juice. The whole plant--from the leaves to the flowers and the fruits--is poisonous, and simply rubbing against it can cause harm. The roots are the most poisonous part.

Cultivation and Harvesting.

The Belladonna grows best in well-limed soil, in either full sun or part shade. Plants in full sunlight tends to stunt its growth. It prefers the soil to be kept moist. It may be propagated by either seeds sown in flats or cuttings of the branch tips. Seeds take 4-6 weeks to germinate. When cultivated on the slope of a hill, the yield of alkaloids is especially good, however harvested parts must be dried quickly in the sun or else yield smaller amounts of alkaloids. The greatest loss of plants tends to occur in wet winters.



Belladonna has been known to be an ingredient in several witchcraft ointments, the most known of which is the 'flying ointment'. Typical ingredients of the flying ointment included opium poppy, hemlock, wolfsbane, and henbane, as well as belladonna, in a base of animal fat. Animal fat was used because of its accessibility as an ingredient; in later accusations made against witches the claim was that they used children's fat. In general there is very little record of actual recipes of flying ointments, thus the dosage of solaceanous plants to other ingredients is largely conjecture.

Although thought to be a magic salve applied on a broomstick so that the witches could fly to the Sabbath, 'flying ointment' most likely refers to the hallucinogenic dreaming ritual, accounting for the sensation of 'flying'. The toxic alkaloids in belladonna and other solacaneae plants are also what gives it hallucinogenic powers.
Drawing on a symbiotic relationship with psychoactive plants, modern interpretations of flying ointments exist even today. Uses include trance, astral travel, and spirit work; to help release the spirit from the body; hedgecrossin; shapeshifting; to enhance or access powers for magic, rituals, and spellwork.

There has also been many theories as to how individuals could use the toxic solanaceae plants without poisoning themselves. One popular theory holds that the use of opium poppy successfully counteracted the atropine of the belladonna because of the antagonism between opiate alkaloids and tropine alkaloids. The belladonna herb, however, was especially known for its unpredictable toxicity.

Other Uses ('Wild Card Info').


Despite its deadly characteristics, Belladonna has been used as surgical anesthetic by earlier medicinal practitioners. In today's world Atropine is still used sometimes as an antidote to nerve gas poisoning and pesticide exposure. Symptoms of atropine are also so unpleasant that it is sometimes added to potentially addictive drugs to prevent addiction.


Eye drops made with the Belladonna were once used by women to dilate their pupils for as an aesthetic effect, to make them appear more alluring.
The atropine blockis the muscarinic receptors in the muscles of the eye, which control the size of the pupil and the shape of the lens.

Nowadays they are rarely used as such because of the adverse effects, such as increased heart rate, visual distortions, and even blindness.

The Belladonna Illusion--dilating pupils to make women more attractive?

In the video above, created by Clare Sutherland and Rob Jenkins from the University of Glasgow, UK, a woman's pupil appears to dilate, even though the image is a still photograph. The trick is down to a powerful after-effect caused by staring at a rotating spiral, positioned in exactly the same part of the screen as the pupil, before seeing the photograph of the woman. [Read more at].

Popular Culture

In recent pop culture, the Belladonna berries were featured in The Hunger Games, as a pivotal plot point where the two main characters threaten to kill themselves off by ingesting the poisonous berries. (See: Lia's page, part of the 'Movie Murders' wiki.)

In E. L. Konigsburg's Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth, the two main characters try to make a flying ointment.

In Jodi Picoult's Salem Falls, a group of four girls practice witchcraft and ingest a flying ointment made of belladonna, with horrible results for the main character.

Just add water...

Back! To the Sabbath!


Atropa bella-donna plant profile at USDA.
Atropine Eye Drops, at
Clifton, Chas S. 'If Witches No Longer Fly: Today’s Pagans and the Solanaceous Plants' in The Pomegranate 16 (2001): 17-23.
Harner, Michael. 'The Role of Hallucinogenic Plants in European Witchcraft' in Hallucinogens and Shamanism (Oxford University Press 1973).

Kowalchik, Claire; Carr A Hylton W (1987). Herb gardening. Rodale. pp. 1 and 158
Lawless, Sarah. 'On Flying Ointments' at September 2011.
Rita, Paula and Datta K. Animesh. 'An Updated Overview on Atropa belladonna L.' in International Research Journal of Pharmacy, available
Stewart, Amy. Wicked Plants. Chapel Hill: 2009. 105-107.
Tully, Caroline. 'Deadly Nightshade (Belladonna)' in