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Deadly nightshade

Deadly Nightshade is a well-known, hardy perennial shrub with the scientific name Atropa belladonna. Also known as belladonna, it is native to Europe and has become naturalized in parts of North America. Its genus is named after Atropos, one of the Three Fates. Belladonna comes from the Italian word for beautiful woman. There, women used a chemical from the plant to dilate their pupils because they thought it made them look prettier. Despite its name, deadly nightshade is not a particularly poisonous plant. This does not, however, mean that the plant is harmless or safe to ingest.

It is a member of the nightshade family. Technically speaking, it is not a "true" nightshade because it does not contain solanine.

The plant has dull green leaves. Its flowers are either purple or pink, which yield shiny black berries. It is a small shrub, and can grow to be about one metre tall. It is relatively easy to grow from seeds. Because of its name, it is not common as a garden plant. It is a weed in some places. It is hard to eliminate once it becomes established.

According to practicioners of witchcraft, nightshade is ruled by Hecate and can turn into an old hag on Walpurgis Night. It is also used in flying ointments. Of the twelve recipes for flyng ointments, six call for deadly nightshade.

All parts of the plant, especially the berries, contain the extremely toxic alkaloid atropine. The approximate lethal does for an adult is three berries, though fewer can be fatal. Symptoms of belladonna poisoning are the same as those for atropine and include dilated pupils, nausea, tachycardia, hallucinations, blurred vision, loss of balance, a feeling of flight, staggering, a sense of suffocation, paleness followed by a red rash, husky voice and confusion. Fatal cases have a rapid pulse that turns feeble. The antidote is the same as for atropine.

The plant is the most important source of atropine. In Europe, it is cultivated for that reason. Occasionally, the plants are used for recreational purposes, though this is dangerous for obvious reasons.