Deadly Nightshade aka Belladonna

Deadly Nightshade, Belladonna, Atropa belladonna, Image from Internet Archive (Commons), Scanned from “Wild flowers as they grow, photographed in colour directly from nature” (1911)

Thinking about the relation of women to poisons, no other plant represents this link more than deadly nightshade or belladonna. The latter, translated from Italian, literally means beautiful woman. The name is speculatively attributed to its use in cosmetics in Italy where women applied it to dilate their pupils. *

Containing the toxins atropine, scopolamine and hyoscyamine. According to Wikipedia, if ingested, its symptoms are:

  • dilated pupils
  • sensitivity to light
  • blurred vision
  • tachycardia
  • loss of balance
  • staggering
  • headache
  • rash
  • flushing
  • severely dry mouth and throat
  • slurred speech
  • urinary retention
  • constipation
  • confusion
  • hallucinations
  • delirium
  • convulsions
Taken from Internet Archive, Commons, Scanned from The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture, 1916.

In her essay, Don’t Say It with Nightshades: Sentimental Botany and the Natural History of “Atropa Belladonna”, Elizabeth Campbell writes about the Victorian linking of poisonous plants to wayward women saying: Plants like belladonna were anathematized not only because of the danger they posed to innocents, but also because in their association with the female who violated the moral expectations for the girl of the period. Like fallen women, they might rouse the sympathy of a compassionate naturalist, but they were to be generally regarded as a threat to society. *

* Don’t Say It with Nightshades: Sentimental Botany and the Natural History of “Atropa Belladonna” Author(s): Elizabeth A. Campbell Source: Victorian Literature and Culture, Vol. 35, No. 2 (2007), pp. 607-615 Published by: Cambridge University Press Stable URL: Accessed: 25-07-2020 13:27 UTC