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Botanical Description & Habitat

Atropa bella-donna


Common Names
Black cherry
Deadly nightshade
Poison black

Found throughout United States, in waste places, and in European pastures, mountain forests, glades, beside woodland paths, among bushes, and in barren places.

Medicinal Parts
Leaves, tops, berries, and the root.

Historical Properties & Uses

Belladonna has been used pharmacologically since at least the 15th century. During the Middle Ages it played an important role in witchcraft and occult ceremonies. In medicine it was often used as a local anesthetic, as well as a means of producing unconsciousness prior to surgery.

In traditional herbal medicine terms, belladonna has distinct calmative, cantispasmodic, diaphoretic, diuretic, sedative, mydriatic and narcotic applications. Paralysis of the central nervous system can be produced by overdose.

Method of Action

Belladonna has Anticholinergic Action
The whole plant contains a multitude of potent alkaloids, including atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine. These are strong anticholinergic substances which actively compete with acetylcholine for postsynaptic receptor sites.

Belladonna is an Antispasmodic
In German herbal medicine, belladonna is the gastrointestinal antispasmodic of choice. It suppresses acid secretion, and inhibits spasms of all kinds, in all parts of the G.I. tract. Intestinal spasms, biliary colic.

Belladonna dilates the pupil by paralyzing the muscles controling the pupil. Women applied belladonna on purpose to dilate the pupils, thinking this enhanced their beauty--it probably did.

Belladonna has Antihistamine Action
Since belladonna is a controlled substance in this country, we have all but totally forgotten how to use the whole plant, or the leaves, as a reliable medicine. Instead, we now rely on drug companies to capitalize on the antihistaminic action of atropine and sell us synthetic atropine in "cold capsules," and we live with the side effects.

In the British Pharmacopoeia, belladonna is listed as an anticholinergic, spasmolytic, antiasthmatic, anhidrotic, for use in intestinal colic, renal and gallbladder colic, ptyalism, hyperhidrosis, pertussis and asthma.

Drug Interactions & Precautions

Known Interactions

Belladonna, insofar as its diuretic action increases the renal excretion of sodium and chloride, may potentiate the hyperglycemic and hyperuremic effects of glucose elevating agents.

Belladonna increased anticholinergic effect by tricylic antidepressants: Amantadine and Quinidine.

Possible Interactions

The antacid nature of this herb may decrease or delay the absorption of nalidixic acid and the sulfonamides.

Due to the spasmolytic nature of belladonna it may interact in unknown ways with CNS depressants or stimulants.

The use of diuretics may require dosage adjustments of antidiabetic drugs.

Belladonna should not be used with methotrimeprazine, a potent CNS depressant analgesic.

Colchine may increase sensitivity or enhance the response to belladonna. Additive effects may occur between the hypotensive property of belladonna and that of dopamine receptor agonists such as bromocriptine mesylate.

Belladonna should be used with caution in conjunction with CNS depressants or stimulants.


In the absence of other hard data, it may still be assumed that observable interactions may occur between the many central nervous system drugs and the psychoactive principles in belladonna.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Safety Factors & Toxicity

Parts of Belladonna are extremely poisonous, especially the berry. A milder action is obtained from the leaves.

Upon eating the berries, a person will get very excited, his face will flush, and confusion ensues -- some people think this is getting high.

Belladonna is contraindicated in tachycardia, glaucoma, prostatic hypertrophy and paralytic ileus. Side effects including dry mouth, dysphasia, pupil dilation, photophobia, mental confusion and stertorous breathing.

This herb has approval status by the German Commission E.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Preparation & Administration

Use only under the direction of a physician.

Use Contact cold capsules as directed by manufacturer.

Note: This Herbal Preparation information is a summary of data from books and articles by various authors. It is not intended to replace the advice or attention of health care professionals.


Blumenthal, M (Ed.): The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. American Botanical Council. Austin, TX. 1998.

Mowrey, Daniel B., Ph.D. Exper. Psych., Brigham Young University. Director of Nebo Institute of Herbal Sciences. Director of Behavior Change Agent Training Institute. Director of Research, Nova Corp.