Sunday, June 3, 2012

Deadly Nightshade (Lovely Ms. Bell A. Donna)

Because I'm an unruly house guest, I ripped out grasses and "weeds" in my good friends' (Joe & Mary) backyard.  While most people might wait quietly as their hosts prepare dinner, I couldn't help myself to head to the backyard and begin pulling some grasses, thistle, saplings and weeds that had invaded the mulched garden.  (I did ask before beginning to pull the weeds since Mary kept mentioning how much she needed to weed.  And, I have a weeding compulsion!)

After I managed to pull the grasses and handful of dandelions, I tromped inside for dinner and to ask about some vines, that I was pretty sure were Nightshade plants.* Mary wasn't super familiar with Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladona), but I wanted to make sure that she was aware of the potential danger in her backyard.   Sure enough, upon further inspection, I found that they were based on a a few of the distinct attributes.  While I wasn't sure at first, what did I check to positively ID the plant?  First, I looked for the small dark purple flower with a yellow center.  Many of the plants that were cropping up weren't to the flowering stage yet, but I did find one with this flower.  Secondly, I observed the upright, but vining structure of the plant and the arrow + heart shape of the leaves.  The leaves are similar to that of an ivy, but with longer and more slender leaves and ulterior motives.  Lastly, I found small berries on some of the other plants with the similar leaves and structure.  This sealed the deal.  I didn't even need to see the color of the berries, because they'll changed so many colors until they're finally "ripe" (again, just as deadly as the immature berries).
(Bittersweet Nighshade photo from

So what did I do once Mary and I were sure that she definitely had Nightshade in her back yard?  Well, we didn't throw it a welcome party.  But, we didn't nuke it with weed killer either.  Instead, we broke out the protective gear.  Because Atropa belladona is such a nasty bugger with its ugly effects (nervous system damage, heart arrhythmia, terrifying hallucinations, and then death), I wasn't about to chance it.  I put on my sunglasses (protective eye gear), put on the long sleeves, and pulled on some gloves.  I then carefully pulled each and every vining, arrow-leafed plant and piled the up to dry out in the sun in order to be roast in a lovely bonfire.**  This being said, I have not heard of putting oneself at risk my burning Nightshade and I even checked with my resident expert about this.  I wanted to cover my bases since other plants are known to create problems in this way (i.e. POISON IVY should NEVER be burned-- it can create allergic reactions and nasty rashes from burning it and then coming in contact with the smoke.)

After clearing out the Nightshade and paranoidly looking for rashes and expecting a sudden death figuring that the Nightshade would try to exact some sort of revenge, I washed my hands, arms and face thoroughly with soap and warm water.  Mary thanked me for all of my help and I just smiled knowing that her future babies could be just a bit safer playing in their backyard.    

*After reading more & searching for photos (since I destroyed the only plants I've seen recently), I found that Mary's plant was most likely a "bittersweet nightshade" (Solanum dulcamara), which is also deadly, but is what I found, rather than the true Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladona). 

**Does anyone have any more info on the effects of burning nightshade and whether or not this could be risky?  (To be even more safe, it could just be thrown in a bag and sent to the landfill.)

1 comment:

  1. I am looking for the same thing. However my thoughts are of the early humans, say 40,000 bce. at that time we humans made string from any plants available. and if the tribe makes string from Nightshade. the whole tribe suffers. and the hearth is use for the first time in this era. So if nightshade is used as fuel for the hearth. what effects dose it have on cured meats, nuts, and vegetables. I'm thinking survival of the fittest would be in play, but agents poisons. (ie. what dose not kill you only makes you stronger and wiser).
    Thank you for sharing and letting me share.