Language is for Plant Lovers
Language is for Plant Lovers

Episode 6 · 8 months ago

Deadly Nightshade - Atropa Belladonna


In this episode, we are going to explore the plant commonly referred to as Deadly Nightshade, otherwise known as its Latin botanical name, Atropa belladonna. Is beauty in the eye of the...beheld? We'll explore that question and more in this extremely nerdy episode.

***Deadly is in the name of this plant for a reason - do not ingest this plant in any way, shape, or form.***

Hecate art featuring Belladonna - eco-conscious art by Ren - website + newsl etter signup - support this podcast - join me on Twitter

In this episode, you'll learn:

  • Physical characteristics of Deadly Nightshade
  • The fascinating folklore etymology of the word belladonna
  • The etymology of Atropa and how it connects us to the Greek Fates
  • The 2 mythological figures associated with Deadly Nightshade
  • Why you should not eat this plant or get it in your eyes
  • You're beautiful, just the way you are   

References sourced when creating this episode:

Deadly Nightshade Ethnobotany 

Deadly Nightshade information 

Bladona etymology 

Eye dilation 

Folk Etymology of Belladonna 

Atropos in Greek Mythology 

More on Atropos 

Atropos, "The Fate who cut the Thread of Life" 





Atropa acuminata 

Romanian Folk Tradition 


Hello and welcome to languages or plant lovers, a multilored podcast that explores the meaning of plant names in various languages. I'm run Elizabeth, and informal environmentalist, abudding herbalist and artist and a language NERD. My goal here is to encourage you to develop a relationship with plants through history and linguistics. In this episode, we are going to explore the plant commonly referred to as deadly night shade, otherwise known as its botanical name, a Tropa Belladonna. This is a plant that reminds us that beauty is in the eye of the beheld, or is it? You'll have to stay tuned to learn more. ATROPA Belladonna. To clarify, that is spelled ATROPA Bellado NA. This is the plants botanical or scientific name. As a refresher, a botanical name is made up of two words, typically in Latin or Greek, where the first name is the genus and the last is the species. So there are other plants that have a Tropa as their, quote unquote, first name, and typically these are known as being in the ATROPA genus. Then we have the word Belladonnum, which clarifies which member of the ATROPA genus we are looking at, and that would be deadly nightshade. As a side note, the genus Atropa is...

...currently under review by the Botanical Nomenclature Society. Yes, that's a thing. If you want to learn more, check out episode two, where we navigate through the botanical name of strawberries and look at how botanical names work. So troupa might have a scientific name change in the future, but that is yet to be seen. Deadly nightshade is a quite beautiful plant. It has bell shaped purple flowers and sometimes there's a little bit of green splashed into that purple color. It blooms in the summer time. As summer goes on, the flowers turn into berries. They start out green when they are unripe and they turn almost like egg plant black color when they are ripe. The berries kind of look like a really small, firm Cherry Tomato in appearance, with larger top leaves that cut off the top part of the sphere of the Berry, so it doesn't look like it's a full sphere. It almost looks like it has a hat on with the leaves, and this tomato like appearance is because tomatoes and deadly night shade are both in the same family. While they are in a different genus, they do have some components that are going to be similar. However, unlike tomatoes and potatoes and peppers, which are all in this Sulinassi a family, you cannot eat the berries of deadly night shade.

You also can't eat leaves of tomatoes, potatoes and peppers for same reason, because it's dead. So deadly nightshade is not a misnomer. It is in fact poisonous all parts of the plant, the leaves, stems, the parts above ground, the parts below ground, the flowers, the berries, the whole thing. So don't eat it at all. For this reason, it is also called Devil's Cherries, Devil's berries, devil's herbs and being warted. Usually if something has been in it, it is a poisonous plant. So again it's called deadly for reason. Do not eat it. Now, unto the Etymology and folklore regarding this plant. So in Italian, the word Bella and Donna Means Fair Lady, Donna being lady and Bella meaning beautiful or fair, like the fairest of them all. The connection between this word and the plant it has a bit of a folklorish type of anomology, meaning that the word was changed. The original word was changed over time due to the way that this plant was utilized during the renaissance, and that was as a way... dilate the pupils. Why would woman want to go around dilating their pupils? Well, in Renaissance Times this was seen as a way to enhance one's beauty. You may have heard or read that when a person is attracted to somebody else, their pupil's get bigger, in other words, they dilate, and I don't know if this actual biological phenomenon is connected to this idea of dilated pupils being more beautiful than regular pupils, but this was something that women did and because of that, this word Belladonna became associated with this plant. However, the original name in Latin was blood Anna, Blado NA. Now Blood Anna actually has nothing to do with the word Bella and Donna. Instead, in Medieval Latin, this word Bladanna was connected to our word for night shade. It's had an interesting journey throughout time. It actually came to the Latin from the GALLIC and Proto Celtic word that means simply flower and that in turn is derived from the Proto Indo European word for blossom. Blod Anna. is also noted as being a Latin word for Mulin, which is a non poisonous plant which looks quite different. You might have had mulin in a tea for lung ailments like it's very popular herb for anything needing support within the lungs.

It was really curious about this singular word blood anna being associated with two very different plants. The Word Blood Anna again, it is in Proto Indo European, and so the origin of the word blossom and leaf and blade, blade of grass and bloom come from this word Bladdanna, not only in English but in many different languages as well. But in my research I wasn't able to find a connection between Mullin and night shade beyond this commonality of the word Blood Anna and bloom. So this word blood anna was altered through folk etymology, with wanting to be in Belladonna with Blood Anna. It just kind of stuck with the BELLADONNA. This whole procedure of dilating the eyes with a poisonous plant sounds pretty strange and actually when utilized in the way that the ladies of ancient times did, would lead to damaged eyes, poor eyesight and blindness. So while they might have been more beautiful, they certainly couldn't see it. One interesting thing to note is that both you and I probably have, at one time or another, had a Tropa Belladonna in our eyes. It's likely that it is a ingredient included in the eye drops that your doctor gives you to dilate your eyes. However, it is an a very small and very controlled amount. Only one part to a hundred and thirty thero parts water is...

...sufficient to dilate the people's when you look at the genus name of a Tropha, this comes from Greek mythology. Atropos is one of the three fates and it means unalterable or in flexible in Greek. Atropos as a fate, as this personification of a fate made decisions irreversible, and ancient Greek it translates to without turn, the idea that her decisions were irreversible. She is also known as the fate who cut the thread of life. Interestingly, the word atropos is where we inherit. The English word of atrophy, to waste away or to decline in quality in today's Greek. In modern Greek, this term atropos today means lack of nourishment, meaning someone who is poorly fed. In Greek, when a word begins with a as a prefix, it can give us a word that has a opposite meaning, like add not to the beginning of a word. So in Greek trophos means to nourish or even to fatten. So the opposite of being nourished is being malnourished. This word atropos and atrophy and truth p got me thinking about the word trophy, as in that prize that you might win Atropos as a goddess, means without turn, and the Perto Indo European meaning of this word turn can be traced to trip tryp.

We see this in Sanskrit with trippette meaning to turn away in shame. So how does this connect trophy? Well, if you are a victor in something, if you have one something, you cause your opponent to turn away in defeat, and the trophy is the symbol of that defeat, a symbol of that turning away. That is incredible to me. So if you have a trophy. Or next time you go to a sports event or watch when on TV and a trophy is handed out, think of that turning away at youropose the fates and then, of course, deadly nightshade. For a little bit more about the three fates, atrope's Roman counterpart was Morttha, the bringer of death, which gives us an English our word mortal, and in Spanish and Italian morite or Morta, which means death. Her sister, Clotho, spun the thread, which is connected etymologically to cloth clothing, which is something made out of spun thread. In Greek, cloth, though, means the spinner. The other sister, lacasis, measured the length of the thread, which indicated how long somebody's life was. Her name was derived from the Greek Lunchano, meaning to obtain something by fate. So if you obtained something of a certain length, or if you were to see that something was a certain length...

...or height, so for in other words, your own height or the height of a tree or of a plant, it's almost like saying that the height of somebody or something is obtained by fate. It's fate's decision. The Roman counterpart of black casis is descemum, which has a more clear connection in our English minds with measurements, with the decimal and measuring things through counting by ten. So a TROPA cut the thread that Clotho spun and lack casis measured the length of and that was the Greek mythology connection between how long somebody's life was. Through just a little bit more Greek mythology, connecting back to the plant world, the genus Atropa is also where Man Drake is classified. In older classification. Man Drake was actually in the circium genus from the mythological story of CERCI. I've said it once and I'll say it again. If you like Greek mythology, go and read Madeline Miller's CERCI. You will love it. So Man Drake was one of the plants that cercy is said to have utilized, and it's another plant not to eat. The Goddess of the crossroads, Hecta, is often associated with both Belladonna and Man Drake. Hecatea is the torch bearer who guides the way for demeter as she is searching for persephone. If you enjoy Greek myth and have a residence with persephone demeter and or he...

...could a check out my Greek base inspired illustrations of these goddesses in my shop at herbal landline dot etsycom. The illustration of Hecatea includes two clusters of Belladonna in addition to garlic and her two torches. She's framed by the illumination of her torches and a wall, as she is also connected to borders, property and city walls, and she helps keeps boundaries in general. It's time for the endangered plant highlight of today's podcast. There are some endangered plants in the ATROPA genus, for example atropa a Kumi Nata, which is known as Indian Belladonna, and there is a more specific type of Atropa, a Kuminapa, called Riyale X Leandy, which is under a huge stress a huge threat of extinction in its natural habitat. Additionally, we have a Tropa Batica, which is known as Andalucian Belladonna, from both southern Spain and Northern Africa. To close out our episode, I'd like to leave you with one additional folklore that is connected with Bellad on, the deadly nightshade and beauty, with a tradition that comes from the area of Romania. On a Sunday during the lenten preparation...

...season, it was customary for a girl, specifically in church clothes, to go to a place where Belladonna grew. Naturally, she would need to be accompanied by her mother and she would need to bring bread, salt and Brandy as offerings to the Belladonna plant. When she found a plant, she would dig it up and replace it with the offerings. Then she was to carry Verry, the deadly nightshade plant, on her head on the way home. She couldnot fight or argue with anyone on her way home or tell anyone what she had on her head. She emploided all of that, the spell of beauty would stay cast on her. So, whether you are living in the times of the renaissance or a Romanian girl carrying deadly nightshade home on your head, is beauty and the eye of the beheld, or the beholder, maybe if the beholder is your optom a dressed. Thanks for nerding out with me. If you're into plants and botanicals, which I imagine is why you're here, you might enjoy my artwork, which features endangered, at risk and predicted to be at risk. Botanicles plus some Greek mythology. To check it out at herbal landlinecom and herbal landline dot et Secom. Until next time, remember that you're beautiful just the way you are.

In-Stream Audio Search


Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (9)