Night Shade Deadly (_belladonna_)
This is a Solanaceous plant found native in Great Britain, and
growing generally on chalky soil under hedges, or about waste
grounds. It bears the botanical name of Atropa, being so called
from one of the classic Fates,--she who held the shears to cut the
thread of human life:--
Clotho velum retinet, Lachesis net, et atropos occit.
Its second title, Belladonna, was bestowed because the S
ladies made use of the plant to dilate the pupils of their brilliant
black eyes. In this way their orbs appeared more attractively
lustrous: and the donna became bella (beautiful). The plant is
distinguished by a large leaf growing beside a small one about its
stems, whilst the solitary flowers, which droop, have a dark full
purple border, being paler downwards, and without scent. The
berries (in size like small cherries) are of a rich purplish black hue,
and possess most dangerously narcotic properties. They are
medicinally useful, but so deadly that only the skilled hands of the
apothecary should attempt to manipulate them; and they should not
be prescribed for a patient except by the competent physician. When
taken by accident their mischievous effects may be prevented by
swallowing as soon as possible a large glass of warm vinegar.
A tincture of allied berries was used of old by ladies of fashion in
the land of the Pharaohs, as discovered among the mummy graves
by Professor Baeyer, of Munich. This had the property of imparting
a verdant sheen to the human iris; and, perhaps by the quaint
colour-effect it produced on the transparent cornea of some wily
Egyptian belle, it gave rise to the saying, Do you see any
green in the white of my eye?
 At one time Belladonna leaves were held to be curative of
cancer when applied externally as a poultice, either fresh, or dried,
and powdered. It is remarkable that sheep, rabbits, goats, and swine
can eat these leaves with impunity, though (as Boerhaave tells) a
single berry has been known to prove fatal to the human subject;
and a gardener was once hanged for neglecting to remove plants of
the deadly Night Shade from certain grounds which he knew. A
peculiar symptom in those poisoned by Belladonna berries is the
complete loss of voice, together with frequent bending forward of
the trunk, and continual movements of the hands and fingers.
The Scotch under Macbeth sent bread and wine treacherously
impregnated with this poison to the troops of Sweno.
The plant bears other titles, as Dwale (death's herb), Great
Morel, and Naughty Man's Cherry. The term Morel is applied
to the plant as a diminutive of mora, a Moor, on account of the
black-skinned berries. The Belladonna grows especially near the
ruins of monasteries, and is so abundant around Furness Abbey that
this locality has been styled the Vale of Night Shade.
Hahnemann taught that, acting on the law of similars, Belladonna
given in very small doses of its tincture will protect from the
infection of scarlet fever. He confirmed this fact by experiments on
one hundred and sixty children. When taken by provers in actual
toxic doses the tincture, or the fresh juice, has induced sore throat,
feverishness, and a dry, red, hot skin, just as if symptomatic of
scarlet fever. The plant yields atropine and hyoscyamine from all its
parts. As a drug it specially affects the brain and the bladder. The
berries are known in Buckinghamshire as Devil's cherries.