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Deadly Nightshade

Atropa belladonna

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Plant Profile

Flowering Months:
Solanaceae (Nightshade)
Life Cycle:
Maximum Size:
2 metres tall
Fields, hedgerows, roadsides, scrub, wasteland, woodland.

Purple, 5 petals
Solitary, purple, bell-shaped flowers (sometimes greenish). Up to 3cm across.
A green berry, turning glossy black when ripe. Up to 2cm in diameter. In fruit from September to December.
A bushy perennial plant with oval, pointed, untoothed leaves. The leaves appear alternately along the stems.
Other Names:
Banewort, Beautiful Death, Belladonna, Black Cherry, Devil's Berries, Devil's Cherries, Devil's Herb, Divale, Dwale, Dwayberry, Great Morel, Naughty Man's Cherries.
Frequency (UK):
Occasionally seen  

Similar Species

Other Information


Atropa belladonna, also known as deadly nightshade, is a perennial herb that belongs to the Solanaceae family. It is native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia and can be found in a variety of habitats, including woodlands and along roadsides. The plant can grow up to 1-2 meters tall and has large, dark green leaves and bell-shaped, purple or greenish-white flowers. The plant produces a large, glossy, black berry fruit. All parts of the plant, particularly the unripe berries and leaves, are highly toxic and contain alkaloids such as atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine, which can cause hallucinations, delirium and death if ingested in high amounts. Despite its toxic properties, the plant has a long history of medicinal use as a sedative and pain reliever, and it's also used in traditional medicine.


Deadly Nightshade, scientifically known as Atropa belladonna, is a highly toxic plant that is native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia. The plant's name originates from the Greek myth of Atropos, one of the three Fates who cuts the thread of life.

Throughout history, deadly nightshade has been associated with various myths and legends. The plant's highly poisonous nature has also made it a popular ingredient in folklore, medicine, and even warfare. In this blog post, we will explore the deadly nightshade plant and its fascinating history.

Appearance and Distribution

Deadly nightshade is a perennial herb that grows up to 2 meters tall. The plant has dark green, ovate leaves, and bell-shaped flowers that are purple or greenish-yellow. The plant's fruit is a glossy, black berry that is about the size of a cherry.

The plant is native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia and is commonly found in wooded areas, along roadsides, and in gardens. The plant's distribution has expanded to other parts of the world, including North America, where it is considered an invasive species.

Toxicity and Symptoms of Poisoning

All parts of the deadly nightshade plant contain tropane alkaloids, which are highly toxic chemicals that can cause a range of symptoms, including hallucinations, delirium, confusion, and death. The plant's toxicity is so high that just two to five berries can be fatal to an adult, and the ingestion of a single leaf can cause serious harm.

Symptoms of deadly nightshade poisoning can include dilated pupils, dry mouth, blurred vision, difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, rapid heartbeat, and seizures. In severe cases, the poisoning can lead to coma or death.

Uses of Deadly Nightshade

Despite its highly toxic nature, deadly nightshade has been used for centuries for medicinal purposes. In ancient times, the plant was used to treat various ailments, including menstrual cramps, asthma, and Parkinson's disease. However, the use of the plant for medicinal purposes is no longer recommended due to its high toxicity.

The plant has also been used for cosmetic purposes, particularly in the Renaissance period, where it was used to dilate the pupils and make the eyes appear larger and more attractive. The practice of using the plant for cosmetic purposes gave rise to the plant's common name, "belladonna," which means "beautiful lady" in Italian.

In addition to its use in medicine and cosmetics, deadly nightshade has also been used in warfare. The plant's toxic berries were used in ancient times to poison enemy troops, and it was also used during World War II as a chemical weapon.

Deadly nightshade, or Atropa belladonna, is a highly toxic plant that has a fascinating history. The plant's toxicity has made it a popular ingredient in folklore, medicine, and even warfare, and its use has been documented throughout history. Although the plant's toxicity can be lethal, its unique properties continue to intrigue and fascinate scientists and historians alike. As with any poisonous plant, it is important to be aware of the risks associated with deadly nightshade and to avoid handling or consuming the plant in any way.

More Information

Deadly nightshade is a plant that has been associated with myths and legends throughout history. In Greek mythology, the three Fates, Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos, were said to spin, measure, and cut the thread of life, respectively. Atropos was depicted as carrying a pair of shears, and the deadly nightshade plant was named after her.

In medieval Europe, the plant was associated with witches and was said to have been used in their potions and spells. The plant's hallucinogenic properties were thought to enable witches to communicate with the devil.

In addition to its use in medicine and cosmetics, deadly nightshade has also been used for recreational purposes. The plant's hallucinogenic properties have made it a popular ingredient in "flying ointments," which were used by witches and other practitioners of magic to induce hallucinations and out-of-body experiences.

Today, the plant's toxicity has made it a subject of scientific research. The plant's tropane alkaloids have been found to have potential medical uses, including the treatment of Parkinson's disease and other neurological conditions. However, the use of the plant for medicinal purposes is still highly controversial, and its toxicity must be carefully managed.

Deadly nightshade has also been used as a poison throughout history. In ancient Rome, it was used as a poison to eliminate political enemies and was also known as the "poisoner's plant." During the Middle Ages, it was used as a poison for assassinations and was reportedly used to kill King Duncan in Shakespeare's play Macbeth.

Today, deadly nightshade is still a dangerous plant, and it is important to take precautions when handling or consuming it. The plant's toxic properties make it a threat to both humans and animals. Ingesting even small amounts of the plant can be lethal, and pets and livestock are especially at risk of accidental poisoning.

If you suspect that you or someone else has been exposed to deadly nightshade, it is important to seek medical attention immediately. Symptoms of poisoning can vary depending on the amount ingested, and the effects can be severe and long-lasting.

Deadly nightshade is native to Europe, North Africa, and Western Asia and is commonly found in wooded areas and along roadsides. It is a perennial plant that can grow up to six feet tall and has shiny, dark green leaves and bell-shaped, purple or greenish-yellow flowers.

The plant's berries are the most toxic part and are usually black or dark purple when ripe. The berries contain atropine, hyoscyamine, and scopolamine, which are tropane alkaloids that can cause hallucinations, delirium, and even death in high doses.

In addition to its toxic properties, deadly nightshade has also been used for medicinal purposes throughout history. It has been used to treat a variety of ailments, including gastrointestinal problems, pain, and inflammation. However, its use as a medicine has been controversial due to its high toxicity and the potential for overdose.

In modern times, the plant's tropane alkaloids have been isolated and used to create prescription medications, such as atropine, which is used to treat bradycardia (slow heart rate), and scopolamine, which is used to prevent motion sickness.

Overall, deadly nightshade is a plant with a rich and complex history. While its toxicity has made it a subject of fear and fascination throughout history, its unique properties have also made it a valuable resource in medicine and science. Whether approached with caution or curiosity, this plant is a reminder of the power and complexity of the natural world.


Deadly Nightshade filmed at Arnside, Lancashire on the 22nd October 2022.


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