One particular group of poisons is renowned for its painful yet rapid affects. The Solanaceae or Nightshade is one of the largest and most diverse plant families, also containing some of the most poisonous and hallucinogenic plants that have been discovered in human history. All plants in this family are toxic due to the compound found within it called tropane. Atropa Belladonna, Henbane, Mandrake and Jimsonweed are all well-known but mundane plants such as Potatoes, Tomatoes, Peppers and Tobacco are also members and just as poisonous if the leaves are taken internally. Symptoms occur within half an hour of ingestion and death often follows less than two days later.
Perhaps the most well-known poison of them all is Atropa Belladonna or the Deadly Nightshade. It derives its name from Atropos, one of the three fates; the fate which cut the thread of life. Her name, meaning ‘inevitable’ reflected her station as the death bringer for mortals.
Italian for ‘beautiful lady’, Belladonna was used by Venetian ladies as an eye drop. The atropine within the berries’ juices enlarged the pupils of the eyes making the women appear excited and more attractive. Hallucinations were often reported as a side effect of elongated use, often having fatal results.
Just three of the sweet-tasting, shiny black berries can be fatal to both adults and children. The deadliest parts of the plant are the roots followed by the stem, leaves and flowers. Though the berries are the least poisonous, they are the most dangerous as they are the most accessible part of the plant. When ingested, hyper excitement is the first and only reaction before a painful death less than an hour later.
Though commonly used for its notorious toxicity, Belladonna can be used externally as a medicine. Combined with chamomile it can be used on the skin to heal bruises and swelling. Atropine, a compound within Belladonna is used by the military as an antidote for nerve agents because of its fast-acting properties.