What is Belladonna and its Health Benefits

Belladonna derives its name from the Italian word ‘Bella’ meaning beautiful and ‘donna’ meaning lady. Belladonna was introduced for the first time in the London Pharmacopoeia in 1809. Historically, it was used as witch-craft in the middle-ages. Its juice was used as a cosmetic.

Belladonna coming under tropane alkaloids consists of dried leaves and aerial parts of Atropa belladonna Linn.(European belladonna) or Atropa acuminata Royle ex Lindley(Indian belladonna) or mixture of both the species collected during the flowering stage of the plants. These species belongs to family Solanaceae. It contains not less than 0.3% of tropane alkaloids, calculated as ‘hyoscyamine’. Its popular names include Folia belladonna, Deadly night shade leaves, Poison Black cherry or simply belladonna herb. 

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Physical and Chemical Properties

  • It's Plant is a herb about 1.5 meters in height. Root is fleshy, tapering and bears numerous rootlets. Stem is straight, branched, glabrous and hairy.
  • Leaves are green or brownish-green colored; arranged alternately and are seen in pairs, of which one leaf is larger than the other. Flowers are purple to yellowish-brown whereas fruits are green to brown.
  • Odour is slight and characteristic.
  • Taste is bitter and acrid.

Chemical constitution

Major part of belladonna herb possess alkaloids namely hyoscyamine, atropine, apoatropine and scarcely hyoscine. These alkaloids only are responsible for medicinal property. Among the non-medicinal constituents are volatile bases, pyridine, pyrrolidine and a diamine. It also contains a fluorescent coumarin derivative, scopoletin or beta-methyl aesculetin.

Health Benefits of Belladonna

Belladonna leaves and root are used entirely for medicinal utility and henceforth belladonna phrase will mean belladonna leaves or root only now onwards. The berries and fruits of belladonna plant are highly toxic.

As an antispasmodic agent:

  • Belladonna relaxes the smooth muscles of the respiratory tract and hence gives relief to patients suffering from asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough.
  • It also has a depressant action on the intestinal tract so slows down the peristaltic movement produced during usage of strong purgatives. This also benefits in reducing the spasms arousing during the intestinal gripping. 
  • Ophthalmologists use homatropine, a replacement of atropine for dilating the pupil of eye for diagnostic property.
  • Atropine present in belladonna is used to suppress vomiting and hence used as an anti-emetic.
  • Atropine obtained from belladonna is combined with opium and compounded as powder or tincture or suppository form to treat diarrhoea and other forms of visceral pain.
  • Hydrobromide salt form of hyoscyamine was formerly used in pain-killer called ‘twilight-sleep’ during child-birth.

As a sedative or local anaesthetic effect:

  • Because of its sedative action on the central nervous system, Belladonna is famously used for treating excitability, in shocks including those of aerial bombardments, motion sickness specifically of air and sea. Its sedative action is so strong that it is used as a ‘truth serum’ for getting information from war prisoners.Belladonna
  • The local anaesthetic effect and the anodyne effect of belladonna are employed in liniment and plaster of belladonna to treat the peripheral pains, skin and joint pain concerned with rheumatism.  

As an anticholinergic / parasympatholytic agent:

  • Belladonna blocks the secretions like those of salivary glands, gastrointestinal system as well as sweat glands. So it is used for treating hyperacidity, ulcer or any mucosal inflammation of the gastro-enteric lining. 
  • It is also used to check the profuse perspiration of patients suffering from tuberculosis.

Miscellaneous health benefits and usage of Belladonna:

  • Belladonna is used as an antidote to treat poisoning by physostigmine and organophosphorous esters that are used in preparing insecticides. It is also used as an antidote in opium and chloral hydrate poisoning.
  • Apart from the entire herb use, belladonna roots are specifically used in treatment for Parkinsonism because the roots contain belladonine, which is not present in leaves.
  • Leaf and root are used for medicinal purpose. Internal preparations of belladonna as sedative or secretion checker involve leaves whereas preparations of roots are used for external purpose.
  • For centuries, belladonna is traditionally used for conditions like headache, inflammation, peptic ulcer, menstrual symptoms and motion sickness.
  • It is also used as a recreational drug because of its hallucinogenic and delirium effects but this sort of use brings dangerous risk of fatal damage including memory disruption.

Other Probable health uses of Belladonna

Insufficient evidence is also reported for use of belladonna in treating hay-fever, hemorrhoids, colds, spasm reliever in stomach & bile-ducts and nerve problems. It is yet to study the effectiveness of belladonna in arthritis-like pain and colic-like pain.
It is still undergoing research in its use for treating irritable bowel syndrome and acute enterocolitis as an adjuvant therapy.

Side effects of Belladonna

Oral consumption of belladonna is found unsafe because of toxic chemicals. It causes dry mouth, inability in urination and sweating, spasms and increasing the rate of cardiac pumping. Belladonna causes enlarged pupil, blurred vision, fever and skin becomes red and dry. Its severity is noted in causing mental problems, hallucinations, convulsion and coma.

Precautions while using Belladonna

  • Pregnant and breast feeding women must avoid taking belladonna. It is reported to reduce the production of milk and also passes into breast milk causing toxic effects.
  • If you are suffering from congestive heart failure then you must avoid using belladonna as it worsens the heart rate by increasing it all the more.
  • Belladonna makes constipation worse, increases body temperature, worsens oesophageal reflux, increases the severity of ulcers as well as ulcerative colitis, and makes your urination frequent.
  • If you are suffering from glaucoma, do not consume this drug as it worsens narrow angle glaucoma and hence can cause increased chances of blindness.
  • As belladonna slows down the intestinal emptying rate, it causes the retention of bacteria and viruses as a result of which, person becomes susceptible to infections.
  • Do not use belladonna if you have Down syndrome or hiatal hernia.
  • Drug interaction : Belladonna if used in combination with anticholinergics or antihistaminics or antidepressants cause drying of skin, dizziness, low blood pressure, tachycardia and other serious side-effects. So you must avoid using them together.

Conclusion

This drug finds its usage in numerous fields. Previously it was used in making poisonous arrows or as a poison to win over the enemies during wars or as a cosmetic. And now it has also made itself known in the medicinal purposes. But because belladonna is extremely poisonous, it must be used with caution.