It is of a cold nature; in some it causeth sleep; in others madness, and, shortly after, death. – Culpeper’s Complete Herbal
Belladonna, also known to us as deadly nightshade, is one of those exotic, fascinating plants that fascinate plants that gets attention. You’ll find it peppered throughout legends and myths wherever there are Witches and poisoners. Even though it’s poisonous, belladonna is still found in many gardens, even on the side of roads or in fields near playgrounds, and packaged in herbal shops. It belongs to a large family of plants known as Solanaceae; you may be surprised to find out that a lot of our favorite garden veggies — peppers, tomatoes, eggplants and potatoes — belong to this family.
I hesitated before adding belladonna to my magical herbalism series. I don’t want to encourage people to grow things that could hurt someone. Even today there are still reports of people dying because they accidentally ingest the berries, or people are being admitted to the hospital because they play with the plant and it causes psychosis, skin irritations and other conditions related to coming into contact with belladonna.
I ultimately decided to include it because, first of all, I realize that most people enjoy just learning about plants like these with no intent to ever grow them or use them. And secondly, there’s nothing inherently bad about any plant. I think of it like heavy machinery or wild animals—it’s not for someone to casually come along and jump into out of curiosity.
Those who choose to grow or use belladonna should not do so casually, without education and forethought. You should not grow Belladonna if you are:
-New to herbs and herbalism
-Have children or pets
-If your plants would be easily accessible to neighbors, children & local pets
-If you are careless about labeling and storing your herbs
A serious, responsible student of herbalism, however, can enjoy working with this plant if precautions are taken.
Details About Belladonna
Belladonna, Bella Donna, Deadly Nightshade, Devil’s Herb, Devil’s Cherries, , Devil’s Berries, Sorcerer’s Cherry, Witches Berry, Fair Lady, Banewort, Circaeon, Poison blackberries, Suchi, Buton Noir, Cerise du diable, Cerise Enragee, Divale, Dwale, Dwayberry, Great Morel, Naught Man’s Cherries
USDA hardiness zones:
6 – 9
This is NOT Belladonna
WARNING: Belladonna can be absorbed through the skin or through very small cuts! Handle with care, and with gloves!
If you live in the right environment, you should know belladonna is a weedy plant that you won’t have a lot of trouble growing— it prefers poor soil quality on the chalky side that drains well and thrives even with neglect in the right environment. It likes partial shade or dappled light.
It’s not generally invasive, however it may be necessary to pull plants to keep your plot contained. Growing in containers is a good idea.
They can be started by seed or by cuttings (but be careful when handling cuttings).
Some safety tips for deciding where to put your Belladonna:
-Do not grow it near edible plants and berries
-Do not grow it where children or pets go (it might be something better to put off if you do have young children or pets)
-If you do have pets and want to grow it, put a fence around it to keep your pets out
-Do not grow it against fences where some branches might creep through into an unsuspecting neighbor’s yard
-Do not grow it on parts of your property where unsuspecting passers-by with children or pets might come across it
-Make sure to label it with multiple plant markers and warning signs
Culinary and Craft Uses of Belladonna
Here I would normally talk about some common uses of the herb in question, but there simply are no common uses for belladonna other than to poison someone. Seriously– entire armies have been taken down by belladonna. Some unfortunate troops in ancient Rome running low on food mistook them for edible berries, one Germanic army gave it to their enemy in a ‘peace offering’ drink, and others have used it for poison-tipped arrows.
Every part of this plant is poison. Even touching the plant can absorb poisons into your skin. Therefore, unless an enemy army is knocking on your door, no part of this plant should ever be used in the kitchen or in crafts.
Belladonna should be used strictly (and carefully) as ornamentals or curious specimens in the garden. Keep it far from the kitchen.