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belladonna (bĕlədŏnˈə) or deadly nightshade, poisonous perennial plant, Atropa belladona, of the nightshade family. Native to Europe and now grown in the United States, the plant has reddish, bell-shaped flowers and shiny black berries. Extracts of its leaves and fleshy roots act to dilate the pupils of the eye and were once used cosmetically by women to achieve this effect. (The name belladonna is from the Italian meaning “beautiful lady.”) The plant extract contains the alkaloids atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscyamine. Belladonna has also been used since ancient times as a poison and as a sedative; in medieval Europe large doses were used by witchcraft and devil-worship cults to produce hallucinogenic effects. Other species of the potato family such as henbane (Hyoscyamus niger), mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), and Jimson weed (Datura stramonium) also contain one or more of the alkaloids present in belladona. The active substances act physiologically to depress the parasympathetic nervous system. Belladonna is classified in the division Magnoliophyta, class Magnoliopsida, order Solanales, family Solanaceae.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



or deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), a perennial grassy plant of the nightshade family (Solanacae). The stalk grows straight to a height of 0.6–2 m. The flowers have mostly brownish-violet or dirty purple (sometimes yellow) crowns. The fruit is a polyspermous black (sometimes yellow), shiny berry. Belladonna grows wild in central and southern Europe and in Asia Minor; in the USSR, it grows mainly in mountainous regions of the Crimea and in the Carpathians, in moistened, friable soil. It is found in forests, glades, and cutover areas, as well as in brushwood thickets. A related species, A. caucasica, grows in the Caucasus.

Belladonna is a valuable medicinal plant and has therefore been cultivated. All parts of the plant contain alkaloids (atropine, hyoscyamine, and others) and are poisonous. An extract and an infusion are made from the leaves and roots of belladonna, which are used (only on physician’s prescription) as spasmolytic and analgesic remedies in stomach ulcers, hemorrhoids (as suppositories), neuralgias, and bronchial asthma. (Belladonna enters into the composition of the powder called asthmatol.) A tea made from the root is used for Parkinson’s disease. In belladonna poisoning, the pupils are dilated, and excitement and delirium begin, followed by drowsiness and sleep; death is possible. First aid consists of irrigation of the stomach with a suspension of activated carbon and potassium permanganate solution, followed by saline laxatives, strong tea, and coffee.

A considerable portion of the raw belladonna in the USSR is obtained from cultivation, mainly in the Ukraine and Krasnodar Krai in the RSFSR. Belladonna may also be cultivated farther north, but this results in a noticeable decrease in alkaloid content. Belladonna is cultivated on moist lowlands (groundwater level no closer than 2 m). It is best to sow the seeds after winter crops and vegetables. Manure and complete mineral fertilizer are plowed in with the basic tilling. In wide-row planting, the amount of seeds is 8 kg per hectare (ha), in square-cluster planting it is 4 kg per ha.

In regions farther north than Krasnodar, belladonna is propagated by transplanting either year-old or older roots divided lengthwise into two, three, or four parts. Leaves are gathered up to five times per vegetation and dried. The yield of dried leaves is 8–10 centners per ha (1 centner = 100kg). Belladonna is damaged by the caterpillars of leaf-chewing moths and the belladonna flea; it contracts brown spot, Ascochyta infection, anthracnose, and other diseases.


Belladonna. Moscow, 1953.
Atlas lekarstvennykh rastenii SSSR. Moscow, 1962.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


Atropa belladonna. A perennial poisonous herb that belongs to the family Solanaceae; atropine is produced from the roots and leaves; used as an antispasmodic, as a cardiac and respiratory stimulant, and to check secretions. Also known as deadly nightshade.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. either of two alkaloid drugs, atropine or hyoscyamine, obtained from the leaves and roots of the deadly nightshade
2. another name for deadly nightshade
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005