Jenna Fletcher wrote an article on the uses and risks of belladonna that was reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT. This is a plant that has been used in many different ways throughout history, despite it being a very poisonous plant. Scientists have been extracting chemicals from belladonna for medical use. When used under a doctor’s supervision these chemicals can treat a range of affliction from excessive urination at night to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

Belladonna is native to parts of Asia and Europe and sometimes known as deadly nightshade. The plant produces small, blackberries that must not be eaten as the berries or leaves can be deadly. Just as poison ivy, a person’s skin coming into direct contact with the leaves may develop a rash.

People used belladonna in ancient times for its toxic properties such as an oral poison or on the tips of arrows. Some also believe that Shakespeare referenced belladonna in his Romeo and Juliet play, indicating that Juliet might have drunk this to fake her death.

Overtime the use has progressed to cosmetic and medicinal purposes, such as an antiseptic before surgery in medieval Europe. Fashionable women drank the juice to dilate their pupils during the Italian Renaissance from the 14th to 16th centuries.

Do not store belladonna in the presence of small children, as it is deadly. The chemicals scopolamine and atropine are two chemicals in belladonna. Scopolamine is used for controlling the heart rate and relaxing muscles for primarily reducing body discharges. It can help in reducing stomach acid that helps with both nausea and acid reflux. Atropine is similar and helps reduce bodily discharge but not as effectively as scopolamine, as a muscle relaxant and in heart rate control.

Both chemicals are combined with other medications to treat motion sickness, irritable bowel syndrome, stomach ulcers, excessive nighttime urination, diverticulitis, Parkinson’s disease, and pink eye. It is usually considered mostly safe when used as part of prescribed medication but can have side effects.

Because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate supplements, over-the-counter alternative medications and supplements containing belladonna have not often been tested for safety or the effectiveness of their claimed outcomes. Products containing belladonna that claim it can improve conditions include the common cold, fever, whooping cough, hay fever, earache, asthma, motion sickness, flu, cough, and sore throat, joint and back pain, arthritis pain, spasms, nerve problems, gout, inflammation, Parkinson’s disease, and hemorrhoids. Belladonna is also an ingredient in creams, some liquids, ointments, and even some suppositories. Little effectiveness at treating any of the above conditions has been found through research.

Consider side effects of belladonna before using it such as dry mouth, red, dry skin, inability to sweat, muscle spasms, blurred vision, enlarged pupils, hallucinations, inability to urinate, convulsions, seizures or coma. Do not use belladonna if you are pregnant or breastfeeding as it may have side effects that might appear in the unborn child and might also dry up milk production.

Worse side effects could be acid reflux, fever, rapid heartbeat, gastrointestinal, high blood pressure, constipation and urination problems. Some negative interactions with certain meds can occur such as those for allergies and depression that might cause side effects that include a rapid heartbeat and rashes.

For safety be sure any herbal supplements or part of medication that contains belladonna is used only under the supervision of a doctor’s care.

Dr Fredda Branyon