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Definition of Belladonna

Belladonna: An herbaceous plant bearing the scientific name Atropa belladonna or Atropa bella-donna, also known as deadly nightshade. The leaves and berries of the plant are highly toxic and can lead to hallucinations and delirium when ingested. Eating just a few berries from the plant can be fatal in children. The belladonna plant has a long history of use by humans for medicines, cosmetics, and poisons. It is native to Europe, Western Asia, and North Africa but has been naturalized in parts of North America.

Atropine is one of the active substances found in belladonna, an agent that is also used in medicine for its effects on the involuntary nervous system (anticholinergic properties). Other active ingredients in belladonna that have similar properties are hyoscyamine and scopolamine. Belladonna was used in the past as a cosmetic by women, because of its anticholinergic actions in producing dilation of the pupils of the eye. Belladonna has been used as a sedative and cold remedy, among other medical applications, but oral consumption of any belladonna product is highly unsafe and should be strictly avoided.

Symptoms of overdose can include:

  • blurred vision,
  • dilated pupils,
  • rapid heart rate,
  • headache,
  • dry mouth,
  • confusion,
  • hallucinations, and
  • seizures.

The name belladonna is derived from the Italian words for "beautiful (bella) woman (donna)."

Source: MedTerms™ Medical Dictionary
http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=121239
Last Editorial Review: 10/9/2012

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REFERENCE: MedlinePlus.gov. Belladonna.
<http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/531.html>


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