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ATROPA BELLADONNA. DEADLY NIGHTSHADE.
Class V. Pentandria. Order I. Monogynix.
Gen. Char. Corolla bell-shaped. Stamina distant. Berry globular, two-celled.
Spe. Char. Stalk herbaceous. Leaves oval and entire.
The Atropa Belladonna is a native of Europe, where it grows in shady places, along the walls and amid rubbish; it flowers in June and July, and ripens its fruit in September; it is frequently cultivated in our gardens, and rises from three to five feet in height. The fruit is a roundish berry, contained within the calyx, of a blackish color and pulpy, having several kidney-shaped seeds.
Medical Properties and Uses. The whole of this plant possesses poisonous qualities. The berries have a sweetish taste, rather sickly, leaving a sense of acrimony on the tongue; the berries, though less powerful, are a narcotic poison, and furnish us with many instances of their fatal effects, particularly upon children, who are tempted to eat this fruit by its alluring appearance and sweet taste. After they have been swallowed a short time the child is seized with symptoms of intoxication, delirium, excessive thirst, nausea, retchings, grinding of the teeth, and convulsions; the pupil becomes dilated and immoveable, and an almost insensibility of the eye to external objects; the face becomes red and swelled, with spasmodic contractions of the jaw; to these symptoms succeed subsultas tendinum, paleness of the face, coldness of the extremities, with a small, quick pulse, and the child will sometimes fall a victim. The symptoms are less urgent when taken in small quantities, and sometimes the only one present is temporary intoxication.
In cases of this kind the first object is to excite vomiting, and as the stomach is very torpid it requires powerful emetics; free use of the lobelia inflata most usually gives relief; when the stomach is cleared, give saline purgatives, and after this, vegetable acids. Where death has been produced by these berries, the stomachy intestines and liver have been found inflamed; and although this plant is so pernicious to man, it is eaten with impunity by some other animals. The sensible effects produced by the leaves of this plant taken in medicinal doses, are usually by the skin, the urinary passages, and sometimes by stool; in larger doses troublesome dryness of the mouth and throat, giddiness, and dimness of sight are experienced. That the advantages derived from the internal use of Belladonna are only in proportion to the evacuations effected by it, is a conclusion we cannot admit as sufficiently warranted by the facts adduced upon this point.
As this plant is very uncertain in its operation, the proper dose is with difficulty ascertained. The most prudent manner of administering it is by beginning with one grain or less, which may be gradually increased according to its effects. Although a powerful narcotic, it likewise possesses some diaphoretic and diuretic properties. Cullen speaks of its being very useful in cancer, and even asserts that this destructive disease has been cured by it; subsequent trials of it, however, have not been attended with equal success, and we therefore think that no reliance can be placed on it as a remedy, capable of producing a radical cure. Applied to the eyelids in the form of extract, it produces great dilatation of the pupil, and on this account it has been used to render the operation for cataract less difficult.