General characteristics of the Belladonna – Atropa belladonna
There Atropa belladonna, commonly called Pretty Woman, is a perennial, herbaceous plant of the family of Solanaceae which grows spontaneously in humid and uncultivated soils, in the woods and undergrowth of many areas of central Europe, Italy, northern Africa, western Asia up to an altitude of about 1400 meters.
It is a very toxic plant, of little ornamental value that is intensively cultivated for purely pharmacological and medicinal uses.
The Belladonna plant has a deep and robust cylindrical rhizomatous root with various secondary or adventitious roots of light brown color.
The aerial part is a bush composed of erect, fluted and hairy stems, about 150 cm high.
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The leaves, petiolate, are oval-lanceolate, sharp at the apex. The leaf blade is more expanded in the basal leaves and narrower in the apical ones. The leaves are also covered with fine glandular hairs responsible for an unpleasant odor.
THE flowers, hermaphrodite and pendulous, they are solitary, carried by long axillary peduncles. They have a calyx with 5 sepals and a campanulate-tubular corolla formed by 5 petals of a purplish-purple color on the outside and with gray-yellow reflections on the inside. The androceum is composed of 5 stamens with highly developed anthers, the gynoecium of a bilocular ovary with a single style and bifid stigma. Pollination is entomogamous, it occurs through insects.
THE flowers they are solitary, carried by long peduncles. The calyx has 5 sepals, the bell-shaped or cylindrical corolla, purple or brown, with violet reflections on the outside, while inside it gray-yellow reflections and is divided into 5 rounded tips at the apex.
THE fruits they are small spherical berries surrounded by the chalice which, during maturation, grows and opens like a star. The unripe berries are green and the ripe ones are black and shiny. Their ripening is gradual, and on the same plant there are green berries and ripe fruits. The ripe berries detach from the plant leaving many green starry calyxes on them. Finally, the berries, like the leaves, are poisonous if swallowed.
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THE seeds, very small enclosed within the fruits, have a certain resistance to germination because they are covered with a hard integument. They are dispersed far from the place of production through the droppings of birds that eat the berries without any problem of intoxication.
Belladonna blooms in the summer, from July to September.
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Cultivation of Belladonna – Atropa belladonna
Belladonna rarely present in gardens due to its high toxicity and low ornamental value is however intensively cultivated for industrial purposes due to the demand for its extracts (alkaloids present in the leaves and roots) by the pharmaceutical, phytotherapeutic and homeopathic.
It should be grown in a land exposed to light but sheltered from direct sunlight and winds. The ideal exposure from this point of view is certainly the one to the South-West. It does not fear the cold and if protected at the base with a good mulch it survives frost and abundant snowfalls.
It is a plant that, even if it grows well in any type of soil, prefers moist, deep and calcareous ones, drained and free of stagnation.
It needs regular and frequent watering for the entire vegetative cycle as it does not tolerate drought. Watering should be done at the foot of the plant, early in the morning or after sunset, taking care not to wet the leaves.
It is a rustic plant that does not require fertilization, generally only intervening occasionally if the Belladonna plants have a very slow growth. In this case, to favor the lodging of the stems, the soil is enriched with a nitrogen fertilizer or well-mature manure.
It is a rustic plant that does not need abundant fertilization in fact occasionally a nitrogen fertilizer is mixed with the cultivation soil if growth is stunted. or Thomas slag. In any case, atmospheric conditions have a strong influence on the alkaloid content: sunny and dry years are very favorable, even if they are deleterious from other points of view (parasites).
Multiplication of Belladonna
The plant reproduces by seed and by vegetative way is propagated by cuttings and by division of the tufts.
Multiplication by seed
The seeds in order to germinate need a period of vernalization and therefore once collected they must be placed in the refrigerator closed in a bag until the following spring and then sterilized in hot water.
There sowing it takes place in spring, in the month of March. Many seeds are stratified on a soft, slightly calcareous and well-drained substratum, kept humid until the buds appear, which generally appear after 4-6 weeks.
Propagation by cuttings
It is practiced in early summer by taking 10 cm long cuttings from healthy and vigorous stems. The cut ends of the cuttings are treated with a rooting hormone and then buried in a very light compound kept constantly moist and in the shade. Rooting will take place within three weeks.
Propagation by division of the tufts
The division of the roots takes place instead in the month of April. Belladonna plants of at least 3 years of age are extracted from the ground and with a well-sharpened and disinfected knife the roots are divided into several portions so that each piece has at least one sprout and they are planted at the same time in the soft and clean soil weeds, having the foresight to keep the soil moist at all times.
Planting or planting
Once strengthened, the new Belladonna plants obtained from seed are planted in the open ground when the danger of night frosts is definitively averted and the rains are less frequent. Planting is generally carried out in the month of May.
Collection of Belladonna
The harvest of Belladonna leaves for phytotherapeutic purposes is almost always done after the third year of age of the plant, and in two different periods: one towards May and one towards mid-September. Only healthy, vigorous, green leaves are harvested that do not show traces of parasitic or fungal infestations.
As for the roots, they are generally harvested when the plants reach at least six years of age. Once extracted from the ground, they are washed, dried and then used for industrial purposes.
Pests and diseases of Belladonna
It is a plant that suffers from root rot due to water stagnation in the soil. Among the animal parasites those that cause the greatest damage and therefore the most feared by the Belladonna are the beetles that attack the leaves exposed to full sun.These insects pierce the foliage of the plants making it unusable and unsaleable. The roots are also damaged by attacks from soil parasites if the growing soil is arid.
Cures and treatments
Belladonna must be grown in a soil free from weeds, other plants subject to fungal diseases and soil parasites. The cultivation soil must always be kept moist with a mulch of straw or dry leaves, in summer and in winter.
Specific geo-insecticides or hormonal traps can be used to fight moths.
Uses of Belladonna – Atropa belladonna
Although Atropa belladonna is one of the most poisonous plants on earth, it is used for its components or active ingredients, atropine, scopamine and L-giusciamina, in many sectors.
In herbal medicine, belladonna has been used by doctors since time immemorial for its spasmolytic qualities.
In the past it was used to achieve pupil dilation. Today, however, it is little used in this area because continuous use could cause blindness.
In ancient times, belladonna extracts were used as an anesthetic, anti-inflammatory and muscle relaxant; to relieve menstrual pain and treat allergic reactions.
Currently, in academic medicine, isolated atropine is still used as a pupil dilator, as a muscle relaxant before surgery, as a bronchodilator and heart rate regulator.
Alkaloid tinctures, powders and salts are still produced and used for pharmaceutical use in the treatment of stomach pains. Belladonna is therefore indicated for hyperchlorhydria, peptic ulcer, gastritis and heartburn, in irritable bowel syndrome and abdominal spasms. Furthermore, belladonna has a bronchodilating action in the presence of asthma and bronchitis. Finally, the active ingredients of the plant are used in the treatment of some brachycardias as they increase the number of heart beats.
Use in homeopathy
In homeopathy, Belladonna is used for the following pathologies:
pharyngitis, nasopharyngitis, tracheobronchitis and tonsillitis; high fever and childhood convulsions; violent vasomotor headache. It is also recommended for local inflammatory processes with redness, swelling, intense heat, acute pain, hypersensitivity to noise and intense light.
Contraindications of Belladonna
Belladonna is contraindicated in cases of bronchial asthma, bradycardia and glaucoma, because it can interact with the drugs usually used in these cases. Additionally, belladonna may interact with antidepressants, antispasmodics, and antihistamines. In case of overdose some …