In the Wild
*Also known as banewort, deadly nightshade, devil’s cherry, and witch’s berry
Reaching three to five feet tall, belladonna is a shrubby plant with spreading stems. Its broad, oval leaves are dark green, and its elongated, bell-shaped flowers are reddish-purple. Glossy, black berries, about the size of cherries, form from the flowers. Belladonna is found in woods and wastelands. Although extracts from the plant are still used in commercial medicines, it is too deadly for home herbal use because of the fine line between a medicinal and fatal dose.
Belladonna has a dark history stretching back to the ancient Romans, who reputedly used it to poison enemies. There is a plethora of legends about the plant belonging to the devil and about sorcerers and witches who were said to use it in potions that enabled them to fly.
The genus name comes from Atropos, who in Greek mythology was one of the Fates with the power of life and death. The plant’s common name comes from sixteenth-century Italy, where it was called herba bella donna, “herb of the fair lady,” in reference to a practice in which women used juice from the plant to dilate their pupils.63 While this gave their eyes an effect that was fashionable at the time, it was a practice through which they unintentionally poisoned themselves. If you find belladonna in the wild, leave an offering to Hecate beside it.
Belladonna is associated with the element water and the goddesses Circe, Hecate, and Macha. Its astrological influence comes from Pluto and Saturn.