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The origin of the name Belladonna

Headmistress Belladonna Crisp

I'm sure that everyone wonders where the name "Belladonna" comes from. That's why I wrote this blog entry for you all who were curious about the origin of this name.

Atropa belladonna or Atropa bella-donna, commonly known as Belladonna, is a perennial herbaceous plant which is native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia.

It is in the nightshade family, which it shares with potatoes, tomatoes, eggplants, jimsonweed, tobacco, wolfberry and chili peppers. The common names for this species include belladonna, deadly nightshade, divale, dwale, banewort, devil's berries, naughty man's cherries, death cherries, beautiful death, devil's herb, great morel and dwayberry.

Atropa belladonna is a branching perennial sub shrub that grows to 4.9 ft tall with 7.1 in long ovate leaves. The bell-shaped flowers are tyrian purple with green tinges and faintly scented. The fruits are berries, which are green ripening to a shiny black, and growing up to approximately 1 centimeter in diameter. The berries are sweet and are consumed by animals that disperse the seeds in their droppings, even though the seeds contain toxic alkaloids.

Belladonna Bush

Atropa belladona is rarely used in gardens, but when grown it is usually for its large upright habit and showy berries. It is naturalized in parts of North America, where it is often found in shady, moist locations with limestone-rich soils. It is considered a weed species in parts of the world, where it colonizes areas with disturbed soils.

The foliage and berries are extremely toxic which cause bizarre delirium and hallucinations. The drug atropine is derived from the plant which is used for medicine. Even though Atropa belladonna has a long history of use as a medicine, it is also used in cosmetic and as poison.

Atropine is classified as an anticholinergic drug that affects the nervous system. Drops prepared from the belladonna plant were used to dilate women's pupils, an effect considered attractive. Belladonna drops act as an antimuscarinic, blocking receptors in the muscles of the eye that constrict pupil size. Belladonna is currently rarely used cosmetically now, as it carries the adverse effects of causing minor visual distortions, inability to focus on near objects and increased heart rate. Prolonged usage was reputed to cause blindness.

Both atropine and deadly nightshadeas well as the genus name "atropa"  names were derived from Atropos, one of the three Fates who, according to Greek mythology, chose how a person was to die. And the name "bella donna" means "beautiful woman" in Italian.

A. belladonna has been used in traditional treatments for centuries for an assortment of conditions including headache, menstrual symptoms, peptic ulcer disease, histaminic reaction, inflammation, and motion sickness. Atropa belladonna, along with related plants such as jimson weed, also have occasionally been used as a recreational drug because of the vivid hallucinations and delirium that it produces. These hallucinations are most commonly described as very unpleasant. And also the recreational use is considered extremely dangerous because of the high risk of unintentional fatal overdose. In addition, the central nervous system effects of atropine include memory disruption, which may lead to severe confusion.

Belladonna Flowers

The tropane alkaloids of A. belladonna were used as poisons and early humans made poisonous arrows from the plant. In Ancient Rome, it was used as a poison by Agrippina the Younger, wife of Emperor Claudius, and Livia, who is rumored to have used it to kill her husband Emperor Augustus.

Before the Middle Ages, it was used as an anesthetic for surgery; the ancient Romans used it as a poison (the wife of Emperor Augustus and the wife of Claudius both used it to murder contemporaries); and predating this, it was used to make poison tipped arrows.

Macbeth of Scotland, when he was still one of the lieutenants of King Duncan I of Scotland, used it during a truce to poison the troops of the invading Harold Harefoot, King of England, to the point that the English troops were unable to stand their ground and had to retreat to their ships.

Belladonna is one of the most toxic plants found in the Western hemisphere. All parts of the plant contain tropane alkaloids which is dangerous. The berries pose the greatest danger to children because they look attractive and have a somewhat sweet taste. The consumption of two to five berries by children and ten to twenty berries by adults can be lethal. The root of the plant is generally the most toxic part, though this can vary from one specimen to another. Ingestion of a single leaf of the plant can be fatal to an adult.
Belladonna Fruit

The active agents in Belladonna such as atropine, hyoscine and hyoscyamine have anticholinergic properties which affects the nervous system. The symptoms of belladonna poisoning include dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, tachycardia, loss of balance, staggering, headache, rash, flushing, dry mouth and throat, slurred speech, urinary retention, constipation, confusion, hallucinations, delirium and convulsions. In 2009, atropa belladonna that was mistaken for blueberries with six berries ingested by an adult woman was documented to result in severe anticholinergic syndrome. The plant's deadly symptoms are caused by atropine's disruption of the parasympathetic nervous system's ability to regulate involuntary activities such as sweating, breathing, and heart rate. The antidote for belladonna poisoning is physostigmine orpilocarpine, the same as for atropine.

Atropa belladonna is also toxic to many domestic animals, causing narcosis and paralysis. However, cattle and rabbits eat the plant seemingly without suffering harmful effects. In humans, its anticholinergic properties will cause the disruption of cognitive capacities like memory and learning.
Belladonna Leaves

In the past, it was believed that witches used a mixture of belladonna, opium poppy and other typically poisonous plants, such as monkshood and poison hemlock, into a "flying ointment" that helped them fly to gatherings with other witches. But, Carlo Ginzburg and others have argued that flying ointments were preparations meant to encourage hallucinatory dreaming. The antagonism between opiates and tropanes is the original basis of the Twilight Sleep that was provided to Queen Victoria to deaden pain as well as consciousness during childbirth. So witches probably thought they did fly, but only in their waking dreams.

Now you know where Belladonna comes from. Yeah, the Headmistress is named after something that can harm you, make you hallucinate and make you think that you can fly, poison you YET still help your health and make you look pretty. Makes me wonder a LOT about this character and what she will provide to the storyline of Wizard101 and Wysteria.
The origin of the name Belladonna The origin of the name Belladonna Reviewed by The Fabulous K on Wednesday, October 12, 2011 Rating: 5

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