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Atropa Belladonna (Deadly Nightshade)
Atropa Belladonna has a longstanding history as a medicinal, a poison and a witch’s herb. A perennial, it reaches nearly five feet in height with a purplish stem to match purple flowers that eventually become morbid black berries. The foliage is sensitive to cold and is a dark green color with pronounced veins on the undersides of the leaves. Belladonna, particularly the roots, contains the toxic alkaloids Hyoscyamine and Atropine, which can cause uncontrolled delirium or death. There are a number of anecdotes and instances in literature and film where belladonna has been used as a poison. It is also one of the primary ingredients in witches’ flying ointments (see link below). However, despite this “deadly” quality, belladonna is also said to counteract certain other poisons. It is also used topically and internally for a variety of purposes in both folk and modern medicine because of its pain relieving and antispasmodic qualities as well as its effect of pupil dilation. Certain over-the-counter cold remedies use belladonna extract to clear mucous from nasal passages. Atropine is also used in optometry to dilate pupils for eye exams and to prevent spasms. It was also once used in cosmetics to dilate pupils and make females’ eyes seem more attractive.
Belladonna grows well in average soil and prefers shade to partial shade. Seeds germinate slowly and irregularly due to germination inhibitors in the seeds that are designed to make sure that all the seeds do not germinate at once in the event that unfavorable conditions should arise afterwards. Seeds should be cold stratified for four weeks in the fridge. Pretreatment with gibberellic acid (GA-3) can be been done to improve and even out germination . Provide good moisture and sterile conditions during germination, burying the seed just under the surface of the soil. Keep the soil warm throughout germination. Fertilize regularly once established.