The source of this invaluable remedy is the plant ‘Atropa belladonna’. It is the common deadly nightshade, a member of the Solanaceae family, as are also its sinister sisters, the hairy henbane (Hyoscyamus niger) and the thorn-apple (Datura stramonium). Other, but less lethal, members of the family are the red pepper (Capsicum), bittersweet (Solanum dulcamara), black nightshade (Solanum nigrum), mandrake (Mandragora) and tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum).
The plant is widely distributed throughout most of the Europe. It is striking in its appearance and remarkable in its manner of growth, revealing a nature that corresponds in the most interesting way with the character of the disturbance, both physical and psychological, which calls for its aid as a medicine.
It is found growing usually in chalky soil and prefers a shady site, beside a high hedge or in the lee of a wood. The tall stem, upright, somewhat hairy and of reddish purple tinge, may reach a height of six feet and do so in one season. It bears a plethora of dull darkish green leaves with entire margins; these are solitary below, but higher up the stem are found in pairs, though of unequal size, one of the pair being larger than the other. Some of the leaves may be as much as 10 inches in length.
The flowers which appear in July and August are bell-shaped, quite large, up to one inch, and of a sinister cyanotic pinkish-purple hue. The plant has a long, thick, fleshy branching root of whitish colour, possessing a mawkish, slightly bitter taste and exuding a faint peculiar odour.
It is however the berries, which arrest the eye and may prove all too alluring to the unwary. They are large, globose, shiny black in colour and seem to stare at the passer-by to challenge and entice. In size, they resemble a small cherry and indeed have been given such names as devil’s cherries, naughty man’s cherries and “boutons noires”.
The plant presents a remarkable picture of violent growth, springing into intense activity in the early part of the year from its underground root, bearing leaves, flowers and both ripe and unripe berries all at the same time in a furore of growth and attaining in one short season perhaps to the height of a man.
The fresh plant, when crushed, exhales a disagreeable odour, which almost disappears on drying. The leaves have a bitter taste both when fresh and dried. One author describes berries as tasting intensely sweet, thus tending to encourage their consumption, especially by children.
For preparation of the mother tincture the whole plant is used, gathered at the commencement of flowering.
But the plant has other names, suggestive of the fact that its criminal significance far outweighs its cosmetic attractions. It was known as Dwale, from the Danish for delirium, and Manicon, from maniacum — madness. Indeed, so vehement were the poisonous effects when a number of the berries were eaten that death was almost inevitable. Hence, the full name of the plant, Atropa belladonna, from Atropos, the third member of the three fates who cuts the thread of life so carefully woven by Clotho and Lachesis.
There always was a sinister aura of lethality associated with the plant, as mentioned by Step who records: “The herbalists regarded the plant less as a medicine than as a terrible poison, useful mainly for disposing of enemies and obnoxious relations.” Gerrard too wrote 300 years ago: “But if you will follow my counsell deale not with this plant in any case; banish it from your gardens and the use of it also, being a plant so furious and deadly, for it bringeth such as have eaten thereof into a dead sleep, where many have died, as hath been often seen and proved by experience.”
It is recorded that the plant was a favourite homicidal weapon among the Lithuanians of the 17th century, thus: “They have also a plant which they call maulde, and when they owe money to someone they find means of introducing it into his drink. Whoever receives this plant into his body must die; the whole pharmacopoeia cannot help him.”
One berry is known to have caused severe illness in a child and three to have caused death.
The poisonous proclivities of the plant have of course provided a wealth of information as to its symptom-inducing powers. Among other constituents are the alkaloids hyoscyamine, atropine, apo-atropine, belladonnine and hyoscine or scopolamine. Hyoscyamine is actually the principal constituent, but atropine which has the same chemical formula is probably the most potent of the alkaloids.
It is stated that “The action of atropine and belladonna go a long way together, and those of the alkaloid will prove to be a valuable guide. In atropine we have something highly characteristic of belladonna and its sister species.”
The plethora of provings, accidental as well as planned (there are 53 pages of Belladonna symptoms in the Materia Medica Pura of Hahnemann), show that the drug has a striking and profound action on the whole nervous system.
Accidental proving have occurred without number, both as a result of eating berries and also in the employment or preparations of belladonna or of atropine in unwise dosage in therapy. Space forbids lengthy reference to these enlightening and enthralling happenings, but one quotation provides a fairly typical example. In an old book on flowers it is stated: “For those who have unwisely eaten the berries the following consequences may be predicted — a complete loss of voice, continuous restless motion, an inability to swallow, but yet a great feeling of thirst, the vision impaired, a catching at imaginary objects, delirium passing presently into insensibility, and finally death.”
It acts on the autonomic system, causing stimulation of the sympathetic and inhibition of the parasympathetic nerves with resultant paralysis of certain muscles and drying up of secretions. Thus there is relaxation of muscle tone in the bronchi and bowel wall, dilatation of the pupil, loss of power of accommodation for near objects, dry eye, dry skin and mucosa, dark red flush on face, neck, throat and trunk.
These effects are mainly due to the action of atropine which interferes with the activity of acetylcholine and blocks all parasympathetic nerve impulses. In addition, sympathetic stimulation of sweat glands and vasoconstrictors is interfered with by blockage of impluse transmission at the terminal end organs.
There is also a direct action on the sphere of the psyche producing such effects as restlessness, wakefulness, talkativeness, delirium, mania and finally stupor, coma and death.
Interference with the heat control centre induces fever. The respiratory centre is stimulated by small doses but depressed by a larger dose. Irritation of centres in the spinal cord gives rise to muscular twitching, jerking or actual convulsions.
There is also a direct action on the peripheral nerves, varying from irritation causing pain to inhibition of sensory impulses with resulting dulling of pain and sensation of numbness. Hence the employments of Belladonna plaster to allay pain by local effect.
The effect on the circulation is most marked, with a tendency to sudden, intense hyperaemia, often in localized areas.
The Belladonna patient presents a picture of ebullition. The face is fiery red, the pupils huge and black and staring, like the black shining berries of the plant. The initial bright red colour may change to a dusky tint and the countenance become mottled in appearance. The appearance is one of fury rather than fear, as would be the case if Aconitum was indicated.
A bright red erythema suffuses the skin all over and the surface feels burning hot to the touch. The pulse is full and bounding and there is marked throbbing of the carotid vessels. Local areas of inflammation show great heat, redness, swelling and extreme tenderness to the least touch.
In general, the Belladonna type of individual is said to be plethoric, vigorous, with a capacity for sudden violent reactions, and a proneness to acute illness of fulminating type.
Muscular twitching and jerking may be localized or widespread with resulting convulsions. Incessant incomprehensible chatter may be the prominent feature.
The Belladonna subject manifests acuteness of all the senses — starts at the least stimulus, noise, touch, bright light, jar or jolt. Easily becomes overexcited with rise of temperature as the result.
There may be furious bellicose delirium with a tendency to bite and scratch, tear things to pieces, or make attempts to escape. This phase may give place to one of mental dullness and semi-stupor.
Hallucinations are the rule and these are further confused by the loss of normal visual accommodation, with consequent distortion of the image of objects looked at. Clutching sensations may be complained of, especially in the throat and in the region of the liver and the uterus.
The turmoil in the circulation may produce a feeling as if the bed were swaying up and down. Incidentally, Arsenicum album has the sensation of the bed turning over, Lachesis of the bed swaying from side to side, and Lac caninum of the bed moving about.
Curiously enough, the Belladonna subject although seemingly in a state of boiling heat feels worse in cold air, from cold applications, from the least draught. This is presumably due to the fact that the surface of the body is hypersensitive to any kind of stimulus. Uneven distribution of blood flow may give rise to cold extremities in association with a burning hot head. Sometimes taking food will quieten the delirium. Quite often, there is a craving for lemons and lemon drinks.
|The person especially amenable to the influence of Belladonna is said to be quickly reacting, highly strung, and sensitive, of sanguine temperament.|
Thirst is usually not marked, but there may be a desire to moisten the dry, even parched mucous membranes of the mouth. A curious dread of running water may be a feature.
Sleep is very restless, often disturbed by screaming. Grinding the teeth during sleep, jerking awake when just dropping off to sleep, talking or moaning in sleep, even sleepwalking may all suggest the desirability of considering the remedy. Sweats occur on covered parts of the body, but without affording relief to symptoms.
Modalities are worthy of note. There is a definite aggravation from bright light, any form of noise and the least jolt or jar. As would be expected, symptoms are aggravated by lying on the affected part. Chronologically, there is an aggravation about 3 p.m. and fever peaks are at 9 p.m. and 8 a.m.
There is amelioration in a warm room, by warm wraps, by rest and avoidance of movement, also by bending the head backwards.
Complaints presenting the Belladonna symptom picture may be induced by exposure to cold air. Characteristically, symptoms manifest suddenness of onset and are violent in nature. Pain, headache, pulsations, inflammations, mental disturbance are all violent.
Heat is also a noticeable feature. Sweats are hot. In haemorrhage, the blood is hot. In fevers, head and skin surface are burning hot to the touch. Inflamed areas are acutely hot.
The Belladonna pains are throbbing in nature and are typically aggravated by the least jar or movement. Moreover, they both start and cease with abruptness.
Swellings also come up rapidly and are associated with much stinging, burning and throbbing, great sensitivity to touch and a sensation as if the part affected “is going to burst”. Symptoms tend to be right-sided.
Head Region: Headache of violent throbbing type is associated with great sensitivity of the scalp, so much so that the sufferer refuses to have the hair combed or brushed. Firm pressure however, may be tolerated and bending the head backwards may give relief. It is often found that this type of headache is relieved by cold applications and in the open air, which is contrary to the usual modality of the remedy.
The headache is aggravated by stooping, inclining the head forward, from the least jar, by lying down and in direct sunlight. It may be accompanied by a muzzy feeling in the head as if semi-intoxicated.
The type of vertigo associated with Belladonna is noticed on movements of the head or on turning over in bed. Everything seems to be “going round”. This too is relieved in the open air.
The remedy may be indicated in early meningitis when the patient rolls the head from side to side on the pillow or manifests definite head retraction. It would be considered in heat stroke.
Eyes: Various disturbances of vision may occur, associated with enlargement of pupils, heat and redness in the eyes. Muscle spasm may cause diplopia or squinting or twitching of lids. Throbbing deep in eyeballs may be present or eyes may feel swollen and protruding.
Ears: The remedy is of value in acute earache, especially on the right side, with a bright red and possibly bulging tympanic membrane. The sense of hearing is often extremely acute and the voice seems to reverberate in the ear.
Respiratory System: Epistaxis may occur with hot blood and red face. The nose may be swollen with a shiny red tip and very tender and sore. Frequent violent sneezing may occur. The sense of smell may be very acute or perverted with an awareness of foul odour in the nose.
Throat symptoms are important. Great dryness of the throat which burns like fire and sudden hoarseness or even complete loss of voice. There may be an unpleasant clutching sensation in the throat with difficulty in swallowing, especially liquids.
There is a constant desire to keep swallowing despite the pain and difficulty. The tonsils may be acutely inflamed, swollen and even ulcerated, especially on the right side.
A dry, spasmodic, barking cough tends to be worse at night, on lying down, on taking a deep breath. It is also aggravated by talking or crying and in a dusty atmosphere. It may be relieved pro tem by the expulsion of a pellet of mucus. An acute tickle in the larynx may precipitate a bout of coughing lasting minutes.
Alimentary System: The remedy may be called for in sudden, acute swelling of the lip with redness and great pain. Mouth and tongue tend to be excessively dry, causing difficulty in deglutition. Typical “strawberry tongue” may be present and a scarlet appearance of the pharynx. The sense of taste may be intensified.
Toothache especially affects the upper teeth on the right side and is accompanied by much throbbing and a very red face.
Cramping pains occur in the stomach which extend through to the back and impel the sufferer to bend backwards for relief.
On the other hand biliary or intestinal colic may be eased by bending forward. Griping or clutching sensations may centre round the umbilicus or predominate in the hypogastrium.
In acute peritonitis the abdomen is burning hot to the touch and also extremely sensitive to touch or pressure of bed covers. This sensitivity is present also with severe pain in the ileo-caecal region.
Stools may be dysenteric with much ineffectual urging. Acutely inflamed piles may be so painful and sensitive that the sufferer is forced to lie with the lower limbs widely apart.
Lymphatic and Glandular System: Acute enlargement of the cervical lymph nodes usually accompanies sore throat, with local heat and redness. Lymphadenitis elsewhere or acute parotitis may call for the remedy. Acute mastitis is associated with much heat, extreme sensitivity to touch and red streaks running from the nipple.
Cardiovascular System: As Kent observes, “Belladonna especially affects the whole vascular system.” Violent palpitations may occur, especially on going up a hill or ascending the stairs. The palpitations are apt to reverberate in the head and throbbing pulsations may be felt all over the body.
Urinary System: The bladder symptoms are severe-violent distress with clutching sensations, burnings and constant urge to urinate. There is liable to be either retention from spasm of the sphincter urinae or paralysis of the sphincter with resultant loss of bladder control. Tenesmus is felt in the bladder after passage of urine. Involuntary dribbling occurs while standing or walking. The urine may be dark and turbid with presence of blood.
Genital System: Violent bleeding from the uterus may occur in association with abortion or labour, in the latter case accompanied by hour-glass contraction of the uterus. The blood is hot, the flow profuse, the colour bright and clots are present. A violent bearing down sensation may be complained of with a feeling as if the genital organs would prolapse in entirety.
Right-sided ovarian pain may occur. Also spasmodic dysmenorrhrea in plethoric subjects. The menstrual period is liable to be too early with profuse loss of bright red, hot blood.
Nervous System: Belladonna subjects manifest marked hyperaesthesia with extreme irritability of tissues. This results in an extensive array of peculiar nervous reactions — twitching, jerking, trembling, subsultus tendinum, cramps, spasms, convulsions, all of which are apt to supervene with unexpected suddenness.
The convulsions are usually associated with head symptoms and are relieved by warmth. Dentition or “worms” may be precipitating factors.
Locomotor System: The remedy may be indicated for stiff neck, especially when this has resulted from impact of cold air, possibly following a haircut. Tearing pains are described from hips down thighs, keeping the sufferer restlessly walking to and fro in search of ease, the pains being worse at rest. Acute rheumatism may call for the remedy when accompanied by tearing pains and associated with red, sensitive, swollen joints; impact of cold air is resented, there is a desire to lie perfectly still and local heat affords relief.
Skin: The chief sign is erythema, either in patches or widespread, associated with heat and hyperaesthesia. A cutting sensation may be felt as if the skin were “sliced with a sharp knife”.
A morbilliform eruption may occur or blister formation associated with intense pain. The remedy may be indicated in relation to boils, erysipelas, acne rosacea, acute cellulitis.
This remedy is effective in a wide range of potencies and over an extensive range of illnesses. Dr Edward Hamilton wrote in 1852: “The chief affections in which Belladonna is indicated are the following: Phlegmonous and erysipelatous inflammations, the more delicate the inflamed organ or tissue the more suitable is Belladonna. Catarrhal affections. Affections consequent upon fear, fright and chagrin. Nervous affections. Spasms of every kind.” And then follow a whole page and a half of named conditions in which this remedy has been or can be the most suitable drug when prescribed according to the homeopathic principle.
A special sphere of usefulness is in the treatment of scarlet fever; pioneer work in relation to the use of Belladonna as a prophylactic in relation to this exanthema was carried out by Hahnemann. Opinion varies as to the efficacy of Belladonna in this respect, but either Belladonna 30c or the nosodeScarlatininum 30C could be employed in contacts, three doses spread over 24 hours and a further single dose a week later.
Belladonna is a quickly acting remedy of undoubted value in acute states of sudden onset. It will often abort inflammatory processes if given early.
Complementary remedies are Calcarea carb. and Sulphur. The plant incidentally has a neutral affinity with calcareous soils, growing best on dry limestone.
Source: The British Homoeopathic Journal,
Vol. LIII, No. 2, April 1964.