Common names: Belladonna, Devil’s berries, death cherries, Deadly Nightshade
Plant source: Atropa belladonna (leafy plant with black berries)
Legal status in Canada:
- Atropa belladonna – legal, unscheduled
- tropane alkaloids (atropine, racemic hyoscayamine)– legal, unscheduled
Impact of use: Belladonna is extremely toxic and not often used recreationally.
After all my international wanderings and the inner journeys down strange roads I have experienced thus far, a trip to Seattle to meet with a coven of modern Wiccans seemed a little tame. While the locale is certainly a far cry from the rainforest or the desert, I can tell you that my experiences with these women have been anything but dull. I’m here to learn about Belladonna, also known as Deadly Night Shade. This is another plant that I will definitely not be feeling the need to experiment with, taking into consideration its high levels of toxins.
Belladonna is not often used recreationally in Canada for precisely this reason, although it is sometimes prescribed as a homeopathic medicine for conditions including headache, premenstrual syndrome, and motion sickness. My interest in the plant as an entheogen lies in the nearly mythical connection it has to medieval witchcraft.
Have you ever heard of flying ointment? Neither had I until I began my research into the uses of plants as entheogens around the world. According to folklore, flying ointment was a concoction witches created to help them fly to meet other witches. A less literal interpretation of the use of flying ointment points to the hallucinogenic properties of many flying ointment ingredients, including belladonna, as the true purpose of these ointments. The “flying” that occurs from this sort of use would be purely in a visionary sense in the induction of trances and spiritual hallucinations.
Atropa belladonna is native to Europe (where the connection to witchcraft emerged), as well as North Africa and Western Asia.
Botanical aspects and preparation
Atropa belladonna is a leafy perennial plant that bears shiny black berries.
To create a flying ointment the belladonna leaves would be heated in a lipid base to create a salve. When applied to the skin, the essential oils of the belladonna would be absorbed more slowly than if it were ingested.
Chemical constituents and neural action
The pharmacological activity of atropa belladonna is caused by the tropane alkaloids it contains. These alkaloids cause hallucinations and delerium by inhibiting acetylcholine. Death can result from belladonna’s effects on the parasympathetic nervous system, where it causes a reduction in regulation of breathing and heart rate.
The Wiccan women I have been learning from do not generally use belladonna as a hallucinogen, but they do carry knowledge passed down to them from previous generations of witches of its effects.
The hallucinations produced by belladonna are often dark and unpleasant. Belladonna also disrupts the retrieval of memory, leading to confusion.
For more info
The Wikipedia article on flying ointment provides some interesting insight into the history of its use for ritual purposes.