belladonnaThe Saturnine herb Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade.

Atropa Belladonna


Belladonna belongs to the family Solanacaea, a family of flowering plants that include a number of crops as well as a lot of toxic plants. The informal name of Solanacaea is Nightshade or potato family. It includes for instance paprika, tomato, and potato, [1] all good crops. But when potatoes turn green in the sun, then even they become toxic.[2]

An extremely toxic plant of this family is the ‘Beautiful Lady’, as we shall see. Why is she ruled by Saturn? The English name, Deadly Nightshade, immediately shows the connection with the greater malefic: Saturn is linked to death and Belladonna is one of the most poisonous herbs we know.

Children, it seems, stand in the greatest danger, because its luscious-looking black berries, sweet to the taste, might well have been especially designed by some wicked fairy to lure them to destruction.’[3]  The consumption of 2 to 5 berries by children and 10 to 20 berries by adults can be lethal.[4]

The name Belladonna means Beautiful Lady and there are different stories of the origin of this name. The more accepted view is that this plant got its name during the Italian Renaissance. It was common practice to drop the juice of Belladonna into the eyes to enlarge the pupils, and this effect was caused by atropine.[5] Another explanation is ‘that the name Belladonna is said to record an old superstition that at certain times it takes the form of an enchantress of exceeding loveliness, whom it is dangerous to look upon and the apples of Sodom are held to be related to this plant’.[6]

This derivative of Belladonna is named after Atropos, one of the three Moirae goddesses of fate and destiny atroposwhom the Romans called Morta. Atropos was the oldest of the Three Fates, and was known as the “inflexible “or “inevitable”, [7]another Saturnine quality. It was Atropos who chose the mechanism of death and ended the life of each mortal by cutting their thread and one of the names of Saturn is Khronos, Greek for time.

The name “Atropa Bella Donna” (according to Lesley Gordon, [8] given to the plant by Linnaeus [9] (1707-1778) seems to be derived from an admonition in Italian and Greek meaning: ‘do not betray a beautiful lady’,[10]


BellonaA third explanation of the name suggests that the name Belladonna comes from Bellona, who was the ancient Roman goddess of war.[11]  Priests used to drink a liquid extract before they worshipped her and prayed for her help.[12]

Today, atropine is still used by eye doctors to dilate the pupils to examine the retina of a patient.

Belladonna is not named by Lilly or Culpeper. Culpeper only describes the Nightshade and he ends this description with a warning: “Have a care you not mistake the Deadly Nightshade with this.[13] Culpeper and Lilly agree that Nightshade is a cold Saturnine plant, [14] so Deadly Nightshade, as a member of the same family, must be ruled by the greater malefic as well.

There are many stories in history that this poison was used by kings and emperors to defeat their enemies. In Ancient Rome there was a rumor that it was used by Livia to kill her husband, emperor Augustus. [15] Another story tells us that Belladonna was the poison given to the troops of Marcus Aurelius during the Parthian wars. [16] In Buchanan’s History of Scotland it is said that Macbeth of Scotland used this poison to defeat the invading troops of the Danes and one of the synonyms of Belladonna is ‘naughty man’s cherries’…[17] . During the Italian renaissance this poison was very popular and was kept around, just in case.

The colour of the berries, black, is a true saturnine colour[18] and they have a bitter/sweet taste. The flowers are purple-brown and the leaves of Belladonna ‘are dull, darkish green in colour’, again a characteristic of Saturn. [19]

The fresh plant, when crushed, exhales a disagreeable smell and the leaves also have a bitter taste. The entire plant seems to smell awful, ‘a very nauseating odor’. [20]

According to Lilly, the smells or tastes linked to Saturn are sour, bitter and sharp.[21]

The most poisonous part of the plant are the roots and in any plant, roots are ruled by Saturn.

Belladonna grows best when the soil is calcareous and when there is enough shade. Before World War I, Belladonna was derived from plants growing wild on waste, stony places, like Nightshade, which grows wild under walls and in a rubbish.[22]

The chemical ingredients of Belladonna, used today, are not only atropine but also scopolamine and hyoscyamine. These are all sedatives, bringing relaxation to the muscles and they are used as antispasmodics and very commonly prescribed to treat a variety of intestinal diseases. [23]

Belladonna was also known as Dwale, probably derived from the Scandinavian word dool, meaning delay or sleep[24] and the sleeping potion of Juliet, (Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare) was a preparation of the foreign species of Atropa, Atropa Mandragora.[25]

One of the diseases ruled by Saturn is gout[26] and Belladonna is used as a herbal lotion to treat gout and other disorders like rheumatism.[27] Chemical atropine is a remedy in treating tremors and paralysis associated with Parkinson’s disease, another disease ruled by Saturn. [28]

‘But in repressing Solar and Martial diseases, the learned Physician must apply such Remedies as by nature are refrigerative, cooling and repercussive.’ [29] This sentence from Lilly implies that sicknesses ruled by the Sun or Mars can be treated with medicines of the nature of Saturn. One of the organs ruled by the Sun is the heart. Diseases of the heart, such as heart palpitation, are treated with a small doses of atropine and a plaster with this remedy, applied to the heart region, will help the patient as well and reliefs the pain.[30] Another example is the use of atropine by sunstroke, infections or inflammations characterized by sudden onset, redness and violent pain.

It is fascinating that this very poisonous ‘Beautiful Lady’, ruled by the Greater Infortune Saturn, can bring so many good and bad things.


[1] (accessed December 2011)

[2] Lelsey Gordon, Green Magic , Webb & Bower Limited 1977 p.100

[3] Ibid.

[4]  (accessed December 2011)

[5] A.M. Jangl; Ancient Legends of Healing Herbs,  Prisma Press 1987

[6] MH, (accessed December 2011)

[7] from Greek atropos unchangeable, inflexible. (accessed December 2011)

[8] GM.p.100

[9] Carl Linnaeus was a famous Swedish botanist and zoologist, who laid the foundations for the modern biological naming scheme of binomial nomenclature.

[10] (accessed December 2011)

[11] DC,  (accessed December 2011) see also

MH, (accessed December 2011)

[12] MH, (accessed December 2011)

[13] CH p.128

[14] ibid. and CA p.59

[15] (accessed December 2011)

[16] MH, (accessed December 2011) see also: (accessed December 2011)

[17] MH, (accessed December 2011)

[18] Black as such is not named by Lilly under Colours CA.p.57, but under Stones we find: ’all black, ugly Country Stones. CA p.60

[19]CA p. 86 , MH,  (accessed December 2011)

[20] (accessed December 2011)

[21] CA p.59

[22] MH, (accessed December 2011) , CH P.128

[23] (accessed September 2011)

[24] MH, (accessed December 2011)

[25] Ibid.

[26] CA p.59, 246

[27] CA p.246, 59. See also: (accessed December 2011)

[28] CA p.59: tremblings are ruled by Saturn.

[29] CA p.273

[30] CA p.247