Celebrate The Magic of MidSummer with Fragrant Floral Extracts – Gather Victoria

It is just before the summer solstice. All is lush and green, the air is perfumed with the blossoms of roses, lavender, linden and honeysuckle, and sunny landscapes are filled with yarrow, dandelio…

Source: Celebrate The Magic of MidSummer with Fragrant Floral Extracts – Gather Victoria

Creating your Midsummer Extract is less about a method and more about magic. Herbs and flowers associated with fire and the sun are best suited. St. John’s Wort, rosemary, chamomile, lavender, vervain, hyssop, mullein, lavender, wormwood) bring invigoration, healing, purification, and protection. Rose, Daisy, marigold, cornflower, calendula bring you beauty and love, and linden blossom strengthens your powers of attraction. Ooh, la la!

Most folk customs agree dawn is the best time to gather. Midsummer dew is most magical (granting beauty & eternal youth) so you want to wash your face with it! Others say noon is the best time to gather, some say at midnight. Also, you should be careful that once you harvest the plants, don’t let them touch the ground – apparently this drains their magical energy into the earth!

But whatever you choose to do, creating magical extracts is really about setting an intention, then allowing intuition to guide you. The summer solstice marks the turning point from the waxing to the waning cycle in the great wheel of the year. Afterward, the days get shorter, the nights get longer, and all living things feel a shift in the natural world around them. This marks an energetic cycle of completion, an appropriate time to reflect on what you wish to harvest in the coming autumn.


The Pernicious Diaries


Atropa belladonna

Also, Known As

  • Belladonna
  • Deadly Nightshade
  • Devil’s Cherries
  • Devil’s Herb
  • Divale
  • Dwale
  • Dwayberry
  • Great Morel
  • Naughty Man’s Cherries


The plant commonly known as the belladonna is a medium sized perennial shrub. It can grow from two to six feet in height; it normally bears two or three branches and has a distinct purplish colored stem. The belladonna bears dark green leaves and each individual leaf is about three to ten inches in length from base to tip. The belladonna also gives off distinct bell-shaped flowers which are dark purple in color. The belladonna gives out a strong odor when it is crushed or bruised. The belladonna is an extremely poisonous plant and all parts of the plant contain this poison.

This plant is also known by the popular name of “deadly nightshade.” Since the plant is poisonous, using it as a home remedy would be bad judgment indeed. However, despite the very grim reputation that is associated with the plant, the Italians have named the plant belladonna or the “fair lady” in Italian – a name by which it is also known universally. This Italian name of the plant came about according to one story, as Italian women in the past used to drop the juice on their eyes so as to enlarge the pupils, thus, it was used to enhance the appearance of the eyes – a cosmetic effect that beautified the appearance of the face.

Belladonna contains the chemical substance atropine which indeed affects the pupils in the manner described. Even to this day, atropine is used by eye doctors to dilate the pupils during an examination of a patient’s retina. Two other valuable substances are found in the belladonna – these are the chemicals scopolamine and hyoscyamine, these, similar to the compound atropine have a sedative action and bring about relaxation in the smooth muscles of the body. Compounds isolated from the belladonna find a wide range of applications individually or in combination to this day, the chemical constituents obtained from the leaves and root form the basic ingredients used in a variety of antispasmodics are very commonly prescribed to treat intestinal diseases i.e. peptic ulcers, persistent diarrhea, and an irritable colon among other disorders.

Belladonna was recognized as a very poisonous plant even by early Greeks such as Theophrastus, way back in the third century B.C. The term “the Mandragora of Theophrastus” was often used to describe the plant. The plant’s English name, Dwaule, was a derivative of the Dutch word daal, which means “to wander or to be delirious”. The belladonna is a perennial plant, it may be considered to be one of the most important species in the nightshade family of plants. The ancient Greeks gave it the name Atropos, as it was so poisonous, this is the Greek word for inflexible or rigid. The word “atropos” can also be a reference to “one of three Fates who cut the thread of life” in Greek mythology.

The plant species Atropa belladonna is taxonomically classified in the plant family Solanaceae; this plant family also includes common commercial plants such as the potato, the tobacco, and the chili pepper among others. The origin of this species is probably southern Europe and continental Asia, however, the plant is naturalized in many other parts of the world including the new world. The belladonna produces green berries that change to a shiny purplish black color as they ripen. The berries are about the size of the common cherry, however, all are not agreed on the taste of the berries – some say the berry tastes sweet while others say that it tastes bitter. Many people at the same time say that the entire plant possesses a very nauseating odor and they cannot stand the smell.

Contemporary scientists and medical clinicians consider the belladonna as a very important plant due to its content of various chemicals. The fact that this species had an active constituent was known to the early Greek physician Dioscorides in the first century itself, however, it took another eighteen hundred years for the potent chemicals in the plant to be “discovered” or recognized. A chemical was isolated from the belladonna in the year 1809; the chemical had by 1819 been classified as being an “alkaloid” compound. At the present, the full complement of chemicals found in the belladonna has been investigated and we know it contains the poisonous compound atropine, as well as compounds such as scopolamine and hyoscyamine among other useful compounds. The chemical “atropine is extremely poisonous” is noted in the U.S. Pharmacopoeia to this day. Atropine is very potent and it is said that a dilution of only 1 part atropine in 130,000 parts water is enough to induce dilation in the pupil of a cat’s eye. While all the beneficial and poisonous alkaloids are present in every part of the plant, the highest amount of alkaloids is present in ripened fruit and in the green leaves of the belladonna.

The extremely poisonous content of Atropa belladonna has already been mentioned, at the same time, some grazing animals surprisingly eat the plant and the berries without suffering any noticeable ill effects. The poison is probably absorbed into the bodies of such animals as people who eat the meat of these animals often suffer from extreme illness. The skin can also act as a conduit for absorbing the poison in people who actually handle the belladonna plants. Severe cases of dermatitis are also often reported in people who come in direct contact with the sap present in the belladonna.

Some of the physical symptoms that affect people who ingested this plant include an inability to urinate; a rapid increase in the heartbeat rate as well as sudden and unexplained fits of laughter. When taken orally, the overdose level is only 600 mg. At the same time, dosage levels that are at any range below this overdose level can also induce dilation of the pupils, the sudden drying out of the mouth, spells of nausea and sudden vomiting, problems such as depression, an increase in the heartbeat rate, failure in the movement of muscles, problems such as delirium, physical and mental exhaustion, psychological problems such as hallucinations, a general paralysis of the body, the onset of coma or even death caused by sudden respiratory failure. These physical symptoms may begin to take effect only half an hour after the plant matter has been consumed.

The big question to ask then becomes, why is this plant still considered beneficial if it induces all of these “bad” effects when used by humans? The answer is that there are positive and negative aspects to the use of the plant due to the fact that so many uses for the plant can be found – the plant has good and bad properties depending on how it is used. Belladonna was used by the ancient Romans as a type of biological “weapon” used to contaminate the food reserves and water supplies of their enemies. Belladonna may have also been used in religious rituals of the Greeks and Romans, some believe that the famous Bacchanalian orgies during the course of which women went naked in frenzied dances, literally throwing themselves to the waiting men would not have been induced by the use of alcohol alone, this is because the property of the A. belladonna was known to the ancient Greeks and Romans and the plant was probably used during these ritual festivities. Such festive rituals were forced underground on the advent of Christianity in the ancient Mediterranean; one result was that the belladonna began to be associated with the making of sorcerers’ and witches brews. Belladonna was also used in surgical processes in the ancient world. Surgery in the ancient world was performed by applying an herbal concoction made by mixing hemlock, Mandrake, A. belladonna and henbane – also known as “sorcerers promenade”, when this paste was applied to the skin it induced a form of unconsciousness and primitive operations were performed using this herbal mixture as a proto-anesthetic.

Another well-known legend associated with the belladonna is that the Scottish army defeated the Danes by supposedly mixing the belladonna in the liquor supply of the latter. The Scotsmen, it is said waited until all the Danes fell into a deep sleep after they drank the spiced liquor and then they murdered the helpless Danes. Belladonna, as has been mentioned before, was also used as an eye cosmetic, and Spanish, as well as Italian women, dilated their pupils using drops of the juice, only greatly diluted solutions of the plant juice were however used for such purposes as the poisonous nature of the plant was well known. The modern medical field of ophthalmology still gives lays great emphasis on this use of the plant for the dilation of the pupil. Scopolamine, the other active chemical agent present in belladonna was added to morphine in 1902 and was found to be capable of inducing a trance called “twilight sleep”- this effect was found to help reduce the pain during childbirth and lessened the mortality rate. This mixture of two compounds was also the infamous “truth serum” made used of in so many legal battles and court cases years before. One troubling factor is that this so-called “serum” may still be in use in some countries for purposes of “brain-washing”, and other sinister applications. Atropine, the primary chemical in belladonna came into its own during World War II; the Germans had synthesized a type of nerve gas that was lethal, odorless, and colorless. Atropine was the only antidote that could prevent the paralyzing effect of this nerve gas. It is fortunate that the Germans never used the nerve gas in actual combat during World War II. Atropine used in the role of a life-saving chemical is reported more recently from an incident in the state of Tijuana, Mexico, in 1967. The deadly insecticide – parathion – had affected many people when they ingested bread which had been exposed to the dangerous chemical, in this instance, atropine was used as an agent to save many lives from the effects of the insecticide.

A number of medical disorders have also been treated using the chemical atropine in recent times, these disorders include problems such as asthma, a slow heartbeat rate or bradycardia, disorders like whooping cough, gastric ulcers, allergen-induced hay fever and most impressive, the chemical has been used in treating tremors and paralysis associated with Parkinson’s disease – a debilitating muscular disease.

The Pernicious Diaries ~ Belladonna – Part 2

Plant Parts Used:

Root, leaf.

Remedies from Belladonna:

Remedies prepared from the belladonna plant are normally prescribed to bring a relaxing effect on distended organs; this is particularly beneficial for patients with problems in the stomach and the intestines. The remedies made from the belladonna are also helpful in bringing relief from intestinal colic and pain in the abdominal region. The belladonna remedies help in dealing with peptic ulcers, and it can also help relax spasms along the urinary tubules.
The remedies made from the belladonna can also be used in treating the physical symptoms seen in people affected by Parkinson’s disease, the herbal remedy helps in reducing the tremors and lessens the rigidity of the body, and improves speech and mobility in the patient at the same time.
Belladonna with its ability to bring a relaxing effect on the smooth muscles relaxant is used in conventional medicine where it is made into an anesthetic, especially in procedures where digestive or bronchial secretions must be kept suppressed. The therapeutic belladonna dosage level is almost equal to the toxic dose, and the dosage regimen must always be monitored. Patients given belladonna at excessive dosage levels can suffer from respiratory paralysis, they may even go into a coma, and in some cases, death may also be the unfortunate result.


Belladonna has narcotic effects, it is also a known diuretic, and in addition, it possesses sedative, antispasmodic and mydriatic effects. As far as the treatment of eye diseases is concerned, the belladonna scores high marks. The alkaloid known as atropine, which is extracted from the plant is the most important chemical constituent due to its ability to dilate the pupil in the eye. The pupils of a person are dilated with atropine no matter how it is used, consumed internally or injected under the skin the dilation of the pupil is always the first effect. However, when it is dropped directly on the eye, the effect occurs much more rapidly and a smaller volume of diluted atropine usually suffices for the purpose. Oculists use tiny discs to test a patient’s sight before they prescribe glasses, these discs are made from gelatin with 1/50000 grain of atropine on each disc – a single disk weighs about 1/50 grain. There is hardly a safe operation performed on the eye without using this valuable alkaloid. Atropine is, however, a very potent poison, the doses of atropine given to a patient for consumption is exceedingly minute, only about 1/200 to 1/100 grain is given as a dose to any patient. Atropine is also injected subcutaneously and used as an antidote for opium, this chemical has also been utilized in cases of poisoning induced by calabar bean, and it also finds use in some cases of chloroform poisoning. Large doses of atropine can paralyze the nerve endings of involuntary muscles, though it induces no effect on the voluntary muscles, the danger is that the paralysis of the nerve endings found on involuntary muscles will finally affect the central nervous system, and this situation will induce sudden mental excitement and delirium progressing to other severe problems for the patient.

All the different herbal preparations and remedies made using the belladonna have many medicinal uses. When the topical remedy is applied locally on the skin, it acts to lessen irritability and pain, and belladonna is used as a topical herbal lotion. This remedy is sometimes used as a plaster or liniment to treat cases of neuralgia, gout, rheumatism, and sciatica in a person affected by such disorders. When the belladonna is used as a drug, it is particularly good for its action on the brain and the urinary bladder in disorders connected to these organs. Belladonna remedies are used to stanch excessive secretions, and also in reducing inflammation in the body. The remedy is also used to lessen sweating symptomatic of phthisis and other physically exhausting diseases that affect people around the world. Used in small doses, the remedy can reduce heart palpitation, and a plaster of the remedy applied to the chest over the cardiac region will help eliminate pain and distress felt by the patient.

The remedy made from the belladonna is also a very powerful anti-spasmodic and aids in dealing with intestinal colic and spasmodic asthma. To help bring relief from spasmodic asthma, cigarettes made from the leaves of the belladonna are occasionally given to patients. The remedy is ideal for children, they tolerate the remedy well even when it is prescribed in large doses for treating disorders such as whooping cough and false croup – two very common diseases in children.

Belladonna also has a very effective action on the circulation in the body, and it is usually given in cases of the pulmonary collapse during pneumonia – it is also used in treating typhoid fever and many acute diseases. Belladonna can actively hike the heartbeat rate to 20 to 40 beats per minute, without lessening the pressure. The remedy is also effective in treating an acute case of soreness in the throat and actively aids in bringing relief from local inflammation and congestion in the chest.

A noted physician of the past eras, Hahnemann proved experimentally that an herbal belladonna tincture will protect a person from scarlet fever if it was given in very small doses. The belief at one time was that a cure for cancer could be found in the leaves of the belladonna, people believed the leaves when applied as a topical poultice, in either fresh or dried and powdered form could help remove tumors on the body.

Plasters made from the belladonna are often applied on the site of external injury, particularly following a bad fall, and such applications can alleviate the injured or sprained part of the body. To treat corns and bunions on the body, an herbal mixture of belladonna plaster, some salicylic acid, and lead plaster is normally recommended by a herbalist.

Other medical uses

  • Homeopathy
  • Tension headache


Belladonna possesses tropane alkaloids which inhibit the parasympathetic nervous system in the body. This part of the nervous system is the one that controls and regulates the involuntary actions of the human body. The alkaloids can induce a reduction in the production of saliva; they induce a reduction in the gastric, intestinal, and bronchial secretions as well. These alkaloids also affect the activity of the urinary tubules; they affect the action of the urinary bladder and affect the functioning of the intestines. The tropane alkaloids in the body also increase the heartbeat rate and bring about dilation in the pupils of the eye.


The presence of the compounds atropine and hyoscyamine are the main reasons for the medicinal properties possessed by the belladonna. Most of the principal remedies made from the belladonna are made using the root as the primary ingredient.

The alkaloid content of belladonna root can vary, this variation is between 0.4 and 0.6%, however, up to 1% of the volume of all fluids in the root can be only alkaloids – this consists of the compound hyoscyamine and its isomer atropine at about 0.1 to 0.6%; the compound belladonna and at in some instances the compound atropine, other compounds such as flavonoids and coumarins are also seen. The root also contains substantial amounts of starch and rosin – a red colored compound. The root also contains traces of the compound scopolamine-hyoscine; also, the present is a fluorescent principle almost chemically identical to the compound found in the bark of the horse chestnut herb – this fluorescent compound is widely distributed in the natural plant order Solanaceae. The compound hyoscyamine forms the greater portion of the alkaloid matter found in the root and there is a possibility that most of the atropine found in the roots are produced via chemical conversion from the isomer during the extraction process.

The content of alkaloids present from wild or cultivated plants can differ to some extent, and this content may also depend on the methods of drying and storing used. The alkaloid content in any plant is also dependent to some extent on the conditions in which the plants are grown, the type of soil, weather. The alkaloid content naturally differs from one plant to another.

The total proportion of alkaloids that can be found in the dried leaves can vary by 0.3 to 0.7% from the alkaloid content of green leaves. Out of the total alkaloid content found in the dried leaves, the greater proportion is made up of the compound hyoscyamine, while most of the atropine is produced during the extraction process as it occurs in the roots. The other two alkaloids belladonna and apo atropine may be formed during the process of extraction from the drug and these compounds may not be found in the plant in its natural state. Compounds such as starch, scopolamine, and rosin are also found in the leaves in trace amounts.

Under the directions given by the British Pharmacopoeia, there is a note stating that leaves used to make remedies must not contain less than 0.3% of the useful alkaloids and the roots should not have an alkaloid content which is lesser than 0.45% of the total volume.

Belladonna is also made into a standardized liquid extract; this extract is used in the preparation of the official plaster, in the preparations of the alcoholic extract, in preparing liniment used in treating topical disorders, in the preparation of suppositories, and also in the preparation of the tincture and the ointment. The fresh leaves of the belladonna are used in the preparation of the green extract. Belladonna is utilized in the preparation of many kinds of remedies and traditional medications used in the treatment of many different disorders affecting various parts of the body.

Common Dosages:

When using the powdered leaves, the ideal dosage is 1 to 2 grains per dose per person. The ideal dosage regimen for one person is about 1 to 5 grains when he or she is prescribed the powdered root. A dose of 1 to 3 drops of the fluid extracted from the leaves is ideal; while the fluid extract from the roots can be taken at doses of about one-fourth to a drop per dose per person.

The Pernicious Diaries ~ Belladonna – Part 3

Habitat and Cultivation of Belladonna.

The belladonna is cultivated worldwide, but it was originally a native species of Europe, growing in the wild in parts of Europe, western Asia, and northern Africa. The species grows well in soils that have a chalky composition; it thrives in woods and on waste grounds. The leaves of the plant are collected in the summer months while the roots are dug up in the fall.

The percentage of alkaloid contained in the various parts of the belladonna herb is the main factor considered when the plant is sold in the market, the various aerial parts and roots are sold by analysis, and the value depends on alkaloid content. The amount of alkaloid present in any part of the plant shows a wide variation. For this reason, it is very important, to cultivate the crop only under such conditions of soil and temperature which are most likely to result in the accumulation of the highest percentage of various alkaloids.

Ideally, it would be best to find out the soil type that results in the maximum accumulation of alkaloids in the plant. However, with specimens of the plant taken from the wild, it has been difficult to trace all the conditions that determine the variations in alkaloid content – the saving grace is the discovery that a light, permeable and chalky soil is ideal for this crop as plants grown in such soils typically contain higher amounts of useful alkaloids. Plants grown in such soils with the added advantage of a site on the southwest aspect of the slope of a hill have been shown to gives particularly good results – plants grown in such conditions show a higher percentage of alkaloids. The climatic range within which the plant grows best lies between 50 degrees and 55 degrees N. Lat. and the plant can grow best at an altitude range of 300 to 600 feet, though plant populations can be found at sea level where the soil is calcareous, particularly where drainage is good and the required amount of shade can be found in the area. The suitability of the soil in which the plants are grown is of the greatest importance to determine their alkaloid content. While cultivated plant tends to contain far fewer alkaloids than the plant grown in the wild, this may apply only to plants transported to soils that are unsuited for good growth. At the same time, the percentage of alkaloids in the plants have also been found to be increased through the use of artificial aids, including the judicious selection of manure, the cleaning, and preparation of the soil, the destruction of weeds. When these are conducted in accordance with the latest scientific practice, they have been shown to result in a great improvement of the plants in all respects; they increase the bulk of growing plants, increase the yield and hike the percentage weight of alkaloid contained in the plants.

Plants were studied for nine years in one test, notes, as well as statistics on the plants, were taken from one season to the next, these examinations extending over nine years showed that the atmospheric conditions around the plants had a marked influence on the absolute alkaloid content of the belladonna plants. Plants grown in sunny and dry seasons typically had the highest percentage of alkaloid yields compared to plants grown in other seasons.

The alkaloid content of individual plants did not show any marked variation at different stages of growth when plants were tested from June to September. However, the alkaloid content of individual plants begins to fade in the fall and there is the rapid loss of alkaloids, therefore, the ideal time to gather leaves may be from the month of June in the summer until the falling of the leaves and shoots in late fall.

Seeds that are sown during the fall do not always germinate, which is why, seeds are best sown in boxes inside a cool house or on a frame, early in March. Seeds must first be soaked in boiling water or baked for a short time in an oven, in order to destroy the embryo of a small parasitic snail that along with a variety of other plant slugs and insects, is likely to attack the seedlings at a later time – the seeds must only be planted after they are all treated in this way. At the bottom of the seed boxes, some pieces of chalk or lime can be placed along with the drainage rubble to facilitate water flow. The germination period of the belladonna seeds is long and seeds are very slow in germinating, the average seed will take four to six weeks or even longer put out growth. A general rule concerning belladonna seeds is that only about seventy percent of all seeds sown can be relied upon to germinate. As the seeds of the belladonna are so vulnerable to attack by insect pests, especially if they are sown in the open, any of the potential seedbeds must first be prepared with the greatest of care. To prepare the seed beds, the initial treatment is to burn some rubbish on the ground, in this treatment, the whole soil is dug up and fired all over, all kinds of burnt vegetable material and organic rubbish is worked into the soil. Once the soil has been treated in this way, it is stirred up thoroughly and left as such for a few days exposed to the air and sunlight. Once this period of aeration is over, the ground is leveled and raked finely and finally given a thorough drenching with boiling water to kill any remaining parasitic spores or insects. After this, the soil is left to dry and once it becomes friable, some sharp grit sand is added on the surface, this is again raked and only then are the seeds sown in a thin layer on the surface of the soil.

The seeds require considerable moisture to undergo germination at a proper time. Once the plants sprout out, the growing seedlings will become ready for planting out in the month of May, a period when the fear of frost has disappeared. Seedlings at the time of transplantation should ideally be about one and a half inch high each. These seedlings may be placed into the soil following the rain, or in a case of dry weather, the ground should be well watered first. For several days, the seedlings must be covered in and shaded from direct sunlight using inverted flower pots.

A Late frost can easily injure the seedlings and the use of a light top dressing of farmyard manure or leaf mold will serve to preserve young shoots from physical injury during the onset of any sudden or dangerous change in temperature and other unpredictable atmospheric phenomena. Belladonna plants grow best in shaded sites. The many difficulties associated with the cultivation of belladonna in the United States have been overcome by interspersing these plants with rows of scarlet runners, the other plants shade the growing herb, and this allows the belladonna to grow rapidly. Following transplantation, the healthy young plants will soon re-established at a new site, however, they will require regular watering in the case of dry weather. The growing belladonna plants need to be cared for, and all plants must be checked for parasites, the entire area where the crop is growing must be free from weeds and it is suggested that harvesting is done by hand.

The lone stem on each plant will reach about one and a half to two and a half feet by the month of September. If the plants in a crop are healthy and strong, then the leaves may be gathered at this time. The term ‘leaves’ used here is inclusive of the broken off tips of each plant, however, the coarser stems can be left on the plant and any of discolored part of the plants must be rejected and thrown away. Any single plant must not be plucked of all the leaves, and leaving a plant denuded of leaves will result in the death of the plant.

Each individual plant must be thinned to two and a half to three feet apart from any other neighboring plant as winter approaches, as overcrowding can be a problem in the second year. This is because, in the second year, each plant will typically bear one or two strong stems and may take up more space on the site.

Another method to propagate the belladonna is to use the green tips and cuttings from the side branches. These root well and quite easily in early summer. The buds with a piece attached root can be taken off bigger roots in April and these may be planted to get new plants. This method of propagation is a very successful way of rapid propagation to grow bigger and strong plants at any site.

The majority of plants are lost in years with wet winters. This is because of young seedling unless they are protected by fallen dead leaves die off easily during the winter. The loss of plants during the winter is less likely to occur if their plants are growing on lighter soils, however, plants are much more likely to suffer damage from drought in the summer months.

Belladonna is also vulnerable to some insect pests. The primary insect species that attacks the leaves of the belladonna is an insect often called the ‘flea beetle,’ young plants are vulnerable to this insect. Such insects can attack plants if they are growing at sites exposed to plenty of sunlight in open areas. Plants growing at such sites attract the worst attacks from the beetle. Plants grown in their natural habitat along well-drained slopes and partly shaded under trees are less vulnerable to attack from the beetle. The flea beetle is therefore much less likely to have the opportunity to attack plants which are grown on grounds covered with a thick mulch of leaves. The damp leaves on the ground keep the caterpillars of the beetles away, these caterpillars feed on the ground and dislike moisture, the damp leaves discourage the caterpillars and this ensures that plants are free of the beetle. Plants can generally be kept free of the beetle if a little naphthalene is scattered on the soil in which the plants are grown, the vapor from the compound will probably help repel the beetles. Beetles can be caught in only one way; by spreading greased sheets of paper on the ground around the plants. Once the greased paper has been placed, slightly shaking each plant will disturb a number of beetles and the insects will jump off like fleas and become trapped on the papers.

In the autumn months of the fourth year, all the plants are dug or plowed up and all the roots are collected, carefully washed and then dried for processing and storage. Once the plants have been uprooted, the crop must be replaced by planting young seedlings or offsets of the old roots. If an incidence of wireworm is observed, the entire plant must be dug up and a seedling can be planted on the spot as a replacement.

The Pernicious Diaries ~ Foxglove

Digitalis purpurea

Also, Known As:

  • Common Foxglove
  • Deadmen’s Bells
  • Fairy’s Glove
  • Folk’s Glove
  • Foxglove
  • Purple Foxglove
  • Witch’s Bells

The herbal plant known as the foxglove can reach six feet in height. The foxglove has a straight stem without branches and grows as a biennial plant. During the spring bloom, foxglove flowers hang in bunches on the stem – the flowers have a dull pink or purple coloration, and often come with white spots on the corolla. The large sized leaves of the foxglove possess distinct and prominent veins running along the lamina.

Among all the traditional medicinal plants of old, the foxglove is considered to be among the loveliest, the most significant, the best known and even the most lethal. The plant poison called digitalis is simply the powdered down dried leaves of the foxglove plant. Digitalis is a well known cardiac stimulating compound that has helped millions of heart patients stay alive due to its property of stimulating the cardiac muscles.

The properties and beneficial effects of digitalis were discovered by an English physician William Withering, in 1775. In his research on herbal medications, he came to know of an old woman in Shropshire who was a practitioner of folk medicine mainly using wild herbs that she gathered in the countryside and the woods. This traditional healer cured a patient of the physician afflicted with excessive fluid retention as a complication of congestive heart failure. William Withering had in fact, expected the patient to die and was surprised by the curative powers of the remedy used by the old healer. Withering identified the foxglove as the curative herb from the old woman’s mostly useless bag of weeds. The physician found that foxglove was capable of treating the swelling or edema, which accompanies congestive heart failure in a person. Withering would also find the poisonous nature of the foxglove herb and the real ability of the digitalis in the herb to completely stop the pulsation of the human heart, even while it was also capable of shocking the heart into contraction. The physician would spend a decade conducting precise experiments on the use of the herb to determine the proper dosage for this new herbal remedy. Withering would publish a paper on the properties of the foxglove herb in 1785, the record of his findings is considered a classic of medical literature and was referred by many physicians in his day.

The shape of the blossoms give the herb its name, as the glove-shaped flowers resembled gloved fingers and the name foxglove is an allusion to the white paws of the common red fox.


Part Used For Homeopath


Homeopath Use

There are other common names for the foxglove plant and the medicinal plant is called by different names in different places. The name “dead man’s thimbles” is used to refer to the foxglove in Ireland; this name is a reference to the secretion of harmful juice from the plant. In England, the name “folks glove” for the foxglove, is an allusion to the traditional belief in fairy folk, who were said to inhabit woody areas where the foxglove is a common sight. Foxgloves have distinct spots on the flowers, these spots were traditionally said to mark the places where woodland elves had placed their fingers, as a warning of the plant’s poisonous nature. The name ‘Revbielde” or “fox bell” is given to the plant in Norway, this name springs from the Norwegian legend about bad fairies who supposedly gave this plant to a fox so as to enable the animal to quiet its footsteps while it was hunting among the chicken roosts in villages. The leaves of the foxglove were traditionally used by people living in North Wales to give the stone floors in their houses a mosaic look.

The foxglove was originally used by the Irish as a healing herb in the folk medicine of Ireland to treat skin problems such as boils and ulcers, as well as headaches and paralysis. The main chemical compound found in the foxglove plant is a glycoside called digitoxin; this chemical compound has been chemically isolated in the laboratory and is now artificially synthesized as well. The compound is employed as a major medication, called digitalis, used in the treatment of congestive heart failure and to right congenital heart defects in patients. The contraction of cardiac muscles is strengthened and boosted by the digitoxin; the compound also slows the pulsation rate of the human heart. Foxglove also contains one more important glycoside called digoxin; this compound has a diuretic effect on the kidneys and is used in some medications. The reason for the traditional fear of the foxglove herb is that any of the chemicals found in the plant are extremely dangerous when ingested in high doses by humans or animals. The compounds in the herb can induce cardiac rhythm disorders, sudden depression, heart failure or asphyxiation if they are ingested in large quantities.

A diseased human heart is profoundly benefited by the tonic effect of the foxglove remedy. The disruption of normal circulation in the body is the main reason for the worsening of heart disease in the human body. The rate of heartbeat and contraction is boosted and strengthened by the cardiac glycosides in the foxglove, as a result of this tonic effect, the heart beats slowly, regularly and without demanding more oxygen than the circulation can provide at any one time. The compounds present in the foxglove also stimulate the production of urine in the kidneys, this effect also leads to the lowering in the total volume of blood in circulation, and this brings a reduction in the load on the heart muscles.

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While the foxglove has been mainly identified as a native English plant and associated with English countryside, it is found growing in many places throughout Europe and in the North American woods. The foxglove is very easy to grow in most garden soils, particularly if such soils are rich in the content of organic matter and humus. The foxglove grows best in light dry soils in sites with a semi-shade; however, the plant can also succeed very well in sites with full exposure to the sunlight if the soil at the site is also moist or wet. The foxglove herb is also adapted to acidic soils and grows well in such soils. The plant also tolerates cold temperatures and is quite hardy, capable of tolerating temperate up to -25°c during the winter months. Temperate woodlands are easily colonized by the foxglove especially if such sites are shaded to some extent. The foxglove is an ornamental plant and a favorite of many gardeners around the world. The main reason for the commercial cultivation of the foxglove is for the useful glycosides it contains, these chemical compounds form the basis for the important heart medicine called digitalis. Herbalists also commonly use this species in the preparation of herbal heart remedies, the sub-species called D. lanata, on the other hand, is commercially grown for supplying the pharmaceutical industry with natural digitoxin. Foxglove plants grown at sites with good daily exposure to incumbent sunlight typically contain greater concentrations of the beneficial and medically active compounds – therefore, site selection is important when commercially cultivating foxglove plants. Apiarists also favor the foxglove as bees are attracted to its flowers due to their high nectar content. Each individual foxglove plant can give to two million seeds in its lifetime. Browsing animals such as deer and rabbits almost never trouble the members of this plant genus – due to the fact that most of them are poisonous. The foxglove grows well in mixed woods and is a good companion plant for other trees and shrubs growing on a site. The foxglove stimulates the growth of neighboring plants and trees, especially growing well among pine trees in temperate woodlands.

The foxglove herb is normally propagated using stored seeds. The seeds are surface sown early in the spring in a cold frame inside a greenhouse. Foxglove seeds typically take two to four weeks at 20°C to germinate. Once the seedlings emerge and plants begin to grow and become large enough to handle by hand, each individual seedling is pricked out into its own pot and these pots are then planted out in the permanent sites for the plants when summer arrives the following year. When the supply of seeds is sufficient, they can be sown out of doors at the permanent site during the spring or the fall – this practice is advisable only if seed stocks are abundant as the mortality rate of such seedlings planted directly out of doors tends to be rather high compared to seedlings grown indoors.


Foxglove contains cardiac glycosides (including digoxin; digitoxin, and lanatosides), anthraquinones, flavonoids, and saponins. Digitoxin rapidly strengthens the heartbeat but is excreted very slowly. Digoxin is preferred as a long-term medication.

foxglove new

The Pernicious Diaries ~ Homeopathy – Digitalis


Digitalis purpurea

Foxglove is an herb-like plant that grows biennially. Foxgloves produce spirally arranged leaves that are simple and grow up to 10 cm to 35 cm in length and 5 cm to 12 cm in width. The leaves are grey-green in color, soft and have a finely jagged margin. During the first year of the plant’s growth, the leaves are in the form of a tight rose-shaped arrangement (rosette) at the level of the ground.

The foxglove plant bears a flowering stalk in the second year of its existence. Usually, the flowering stalk of the plant grows up to a height of 1 meter to 2 meters and at times even taller. The color of flowers of this species is varied – usually purple, but they may be rose, pink, yellow or even white hued in selected cultivable varieties. These flowers are organized in a very ostentatious, terminal, lengthened cluster with each being cylindrical and dangling like a pendant or pendulum. Apart from appearing at the stalk terminal, the flowers may occur at the inside bottom of the tubular flowering stem. The plant blooms during the early part of summer and often when there are additional growths of flowering stems, the plant may also flower later than their flowering season. The plant bears fruits that are akin to capsules and when they are ripe, they rupture to discharge copious tiny seeds, each measuring around 0.1 mm to 0.2 mm.

The leaves, flowers, as well as seeds of this herb, are poisonous to humans as well as certain animals as they enclose a toxic cardiac glycoside called digitoxin. Consuming either of them may even prove to be fatal. However, 18th-century English botanist William Withering was the first to extract cardiac glycoside digitoxin from the leaves and presently it forms the basis of the medication that is used to treat heart problems. Withering was also the first to identify that this organic chemical compound was helpful in reducing dropsy (a health condition distinguished by a buildup of watery fluid in the tissues), enhancing the flow of urine as well as having a potent influence on the heart. Very dissimilar to the distilled form used by pharmaceutical firms, the extracts obtained from the foxglove plant usually did not result in frequent intoxication as they promoted vomiting and nausea within a few minutes of ingesting them. In fact, such vomiting and nausea prevent patients from consuming more of this toxic substance contained in the extracts.

The homeopathic remedy digitalis is primarily used to treat heart ailments. Precisely speaking, homeopathic physicians prescribe this medication for patients who are susceptible to heart ailment and problems of the circulatory system. This homeopathic remedy is believed to be especially suitable if the symptoms endured by the patients are accompanied by apprehensions regarding their death. They may also suffer from the trepidation that any movement, particularly walking, may result in their heart to stop beating. In addition, such patients may also suffer from visual problems and have a craving for bitter things. People who respond best to the homeopathic remedy digitalis are patients who suffer from heart ailments that are accompanied by vertigo, pains in the region of the heart, a sluggish pulse rate and nausea. In addition to the conditions and symptoms mentioned here, digitalis is also prescribed for patients enduring liver ailments, especially when they take place concurrently with the symptoms related to heart disorders.

As fore-mentioned, William Withering, the 18th-century English botanist, and the physician were the first to prove that the flowers of the foxglove plant were a significant medication for treating heart disorders. Even to this day, the active elements of the plant’s flowers are made use of in preparing herbal as well as other traditional heart medications.

Despite being an attractive plant, the foxglove is a lethal poison. Hence, consuming the leaves, flowers or seeds of this plant may lead to gastrointestinal problems and most remarkably, result in heart and circulation problems. When any part of this toxic plant is ingested, it may slow the heartbeat. This is a primary reason that allopathic medicines containing extracts of digitalis are only given to patients when their heart palpitates or beats exceptionally fast. However, in homeopathy, digitalis is given to a patient when his/ her heart is failing to carry on its normal pace, especially when the patient experiences problems in breathing normally.

When the tissues of a patient do not receive enough oxygen owing to poor blood circulation it results in their appearance turning blue, a condition known as cyanosis. In such cases, administration of the homeopathic medication digitalis may produce incredible results. In addition, patients who are always apprehensive and nervous regarding their health condition and suffer from the fear of imminent death also require digitalis most. In fact, the extracts from the plant foxglove are used to prepare potent and effectual medications in homeopathy to treat heart conditions discussed above. Dissimilar to several contemporary medications, the homeopathic remedy digitalis obtained from the leaves of the foxglove plant has been widely used for treating heart and circulatory problems for more than two centuries.

Scientific papers published during the latter part of the 19th century noted that the homeopathic remedy digitalis possessed the potential to inhibit the pace of the heart as well as increase the heart rate according to the requirement of the patient. The scientists also experimented with digitalis as a diuretic and found that it facilitated in diminishing fluid retention among patients suffering from dropsy or edema. In another experiment, physicians administered digitalis to patients suffering from fevers and found that this homeopathic medication was effective in bringing down the body temperature. It may be mentioned here that fevers are often responsible for very rapid pulse rate.

While scientists have been working on foxglove for quite some time now to identify its therapeutic uses, presently they have a better understanding of this herb. Homeopathic physicians now prescribe digitalis to patients who are susceptible to heart failure and people who have a tendency to arrhythmia’s (any irregularity in the heartbeat). In addition, this homeopathic remedy may also be prescribed for children with heart problems to help them to tide over a period till they are old enough to undergo heart surgery.

However, it may be noted that digitalis only possesses mild diuretic properties that are effective to a certain extent. Therefore, when any patient requires a medication only to regulate fluid retention by the body, physicians usually prefer other less toxic medications. The homeopathic remedy digitalis helps to promote the functioning of the heart better probably by getting rid of the excess fluid retained by the body. Nevertheless, it may be said for certain that digitalis is not the best medication available for treating dropsy or fluid retention by the body and may be used only when any other more effective diuretic is not available to the patient.

The homeopathic remedy digitalis is known to interact with certain medications. Therefore, before you start taking digitalis, it is essential to tell your physician regarding all the other medications, minerals, vitamins or supplements you may be taking for other conditions. Digitalis may interact with certain medications for the heart, for instance, cholesterol-lowering medications, anti-arrhythmia drugs and also nitro-glycerin. Even a number of antibiotics are known to interact with digitalis; it is also advisable not to take any anti-fungal medications concurrently with this homeopathic remedy. In addition, when decongestants, antacids, diarrhea medications and antihistamines are taken concurrently with digitalis, it may result in adverse after-effects. If any patient taking the homeopathic remedy digitalis has a cold or a cough, it is advisable that he/ she should consult their physician regarding the most appropriate and safe cold medications that they should take.

Like in the case with any other medication, using the homeopathic remedy digitalis may also result in a number of side effects, including some serious ones. The most common side effects of digitalis may include acute diarrhea, nausea, skin rash and/ or severe visual sensitivity to light. Any patient experiencing any of the above-mentioned symptoms after taking digitalis should seek emergency medical help as they require the immediate attention of a doctor.

However, there are numerous patients who find digitalis well tolerable and for them, it is one of the most suitable homeopathic medications for treating heart conditions. Along with antibiotics, the homeopathic remedy digitalis is considered to be among the most significant medications that have been developed thus far. This is all the truer since digitalis has helped in increasing the life expectancy of people who need to and ought to use this homeopathic remedy.

Plant Part Used:

Freshly obtained leaves of the foxglove plants are used to prepare the homeopathic remedy digitalis. The leaves are collected just before the plants begin to blossom in their second year of existence. Subsequently, the leaves are cleaned and expressed to obtain their juice. The juice is then blended with alcohol and diluted to the desired level to obtain the homeopathic remedy digitalis. As with preparing any other homeopathic remedy, even digitalis does not retain the slightest trace of the toxic leaves of foxglove.

Therapeutic Properties:

The herb foxglove is known to possess a number of therapeutic properties and is specially used to treat conditions related to the heart and circulatory system. In ancient times, Britons used this herb to cure wounds. While in conventional medicine foxglove is a remedy for heart failure and irregular heartbeat, in homeopathy, digitalis, prepared from the toxic leaves of the foxglove plant, is an important medication to treat heart disorders.

In homeopathy, digitalis is widely used to cure an extremely sluggish pulse or an unbalanced, sporadic pulse that is related to certain conditions and symptoms, such as heart failure, queasiness even at the sight or smell of food, and debility accompanied by a slight, tumbling sensation in the stomach. Heart patients who might be requiring this homeopathic remedy most may also suffer from liver problems, for instance, hepatitis.

Foxglove is the source for the pharmaceutical drug Digoxin that has been widely used in the past to treat cases of congestive heart failure. In homeopathy, digitalis, prepared from the toxic leaves of foxglove, is a very important medication that helps to cure a very sluggish, irregular and sporadic pulse, usually below 60 beats per minute.

Interestingly enough, this homeopathic remedy may also be prescribed for patients who might be suffering from very fast and uneven pulse too. Patients having an irregular and rapid pulse often have a sensation as if the heart would stop beating at any moment. The condition of patients enduring angina (any attack of painful spasms marked by sensations of suffocating) actually deteriorates when they exert themselves physically are very excited and/ or from having sexual intercourse. In such cases, the pain spreads to the left arm resulting in the debility of the arm. Turning to the homeopathic remedy digitalis in such cases helps to cure the condition as well as provide relief from the associated symptoms.

Patients for whom the homeopathic medication digitalis is most suitable always suffer from a strong fear of death. They are apprehensive that making any movement or even walking may result in their untimely death. They also suffer from nervousness, grief and insomnia owing to the intense pain they endure in the heart. In addition, physical as well as emotional exertions, for instance being disappointed in love and misery may result in palpitations – exceptionally rapid and irregular heartbeat. Generally, such patients become all the more sad and melancholic when they listen to music.

The homeopathic remedy digitalis has a vital role to play in curing all ailments that are somehow related to the heart, wherein the pulse is feeble, irregular, sporadic, and exceptionally low as well as when the health conditions are accompanied by dropsy (fluid build up) in the external as well as internal parts of the body. This medication is also effective in curing debility and dilation or expansion of the heart muscles (myocardium). Digitalis is indicated primarily in the case of the collapse of compensation and particularly when auricular fibrillation (very fast awkward contractions of the atria of the heart resulting in a deficiency of harmonization between heartbeat and pulse beat) become entrenched. Such patients experience a sluggish pulse beat when they are lying down, but their pulse beat becomes erratic and dicrotic (double that of the heartbeat) when they are in a sitting posture. In case the patients have recovered from a rheumatic fever, they may also experience auricular flutter (an irregularity of the heartbeat wherein the contractions of the atrium surpass in number those of the ventricle) and auricular fibrillation. Such patients may also have an extremely sluggish pulse and endure heart block.

In homeopathy, digitalis is also a great remedy for organic heart ailments, for instance, extreme debility and a sensation of diminishing strength, vertigo or wooziness, a cold sensation on the skin and erratic respiration. This medication is also beneficial for people who suffer from cardiac tetchiness and visual problems following tobacco use; jaundice caused by induration (hardening of tissues) and hypertrophy (abnormal enlargement) of the liver. People who endure heart diseases accompanied by jaundice would also find digitalis an effective remedy. Patients who require this homeopathic medicine most are those who become unconscious frequently and suffer from a feeling as if they are on the verge of death. Owing to the imbalance in blood circulation to all parts of the body, their appearance often turns bluish. Such patients are inclined to exhaustion even due to trivial physical exertion and may often collapse. Taking the homeopathic medicine digitalis helps to invigorate the muscles of the heart.


The plant foxglove, which forms the basis for the homeopathic remedy digitalis, is a flowering herb belonging to the family Plantaginaceae. Earlier, foxglove was classified in the family Scrophulariaceae but later included in the larger family Plantaginaceae. This plant species is indigenous to Europe and found growing naturally in most regions of the continent.

The Pernicious Diaries ~Bittersweet

Solanum dulcamara

Also, Known As

  • Bittersweet
  • Bitter Nightshade
  • Felonwort
  • Nightshade
  • Violet-bloom
  • Woody Nightshade

The herb known as the bittersweet is a vine-like perennial herb that has long trailing or climbing stems reaching up to ten feet in length each. The plant is characterized by possessing heart-shaped to oval leaves that alternate on each side of the stem; each single leaf normally has two ear-like segments at the base. The herb bears unique star-shaped flowers which bloom in April lasting till September, these flowers are a pinkish purple and have bright yellow stamens. In the fall, the flowers turn into green berries, that all turn a bright red in color.

The bittersweet is considered to be a weed in many areas; it is seen as a very aggressive and persistent weed. The herb belongs to a botanical plant family that also includes useful species such as the potato and the tomato; it is seen as a black sheep in this family of plants. The bittersweet herb was used as an external remedy for the treatment of many different skin diseases at one time, even though it is very toxic. The herb was used in treating all kinds of sores and swellings and used to lower the level of inflammations affecting the region around the fingernails and the toenails. The medical community stopped using this plant for any medicinal purpose long ago. However, recent clinical research suggests that the bittersweet herb contains a useful tumor inhibiting chemical component called beta-solamargine – this compounds may be useful in treating cancer and carcinogenic tumors. Traditionally, the herb had other uses as well, the extract of the stem was normally prescribed by herbalists, this extract was used as a sedative, as a pain relieving agent, and as a diuretic. This extract was also given to asthma patients.

bittersweetThe species name of the bittersweet herb – dulcamara, is a reference to the taste of the berries. The berries initially have a bitter taste and then become unpleasantly sweet as they ripen. Bittersweet is a native European species, it has been naturalized in America. The herb also has a Native American relative, the plant called the horse nettle – S. carolin mense is closely related to the bittersweet. The horse nettle bears yellow colored berries that have been effective in the treatment of convulsive disorders, this herb is also used in treating menstrual problems and related disorders in women.

Common Parts Used

Twigs, leaves, root bark.

Remedies Made from Bittersweet

Remedies made from the bittersweet herb have a stimulating effect; they also act as an expectorant and also possess detoxifying abilities. The bittersweet is very effective when consumed to treat different kinds of skin problems like long-term eczema, persistent itchiness on the skin, disorders such as psoriasis, as well as warts. An herbal bittersweet decoction made from the twigs can also be used as a topical remedy when this decoction is applied as an herbal wash on the skin, it can help reduce the severity of these disorders and ease the symptoms. Bittersweet can also be used as a remedy to bring relief from asthma and to treat related respiratory illnesses such as chronic bronchitis and rheumatic problems. The bittersweet is also effective in treating gout and related disorders.

In addition to the other beneficial properties mentioned above, the bittersweet herb has a mildly narcotic effect; it also possesses a diuretic and alterative effect. It also has diaphoretic and discutient effects on the body. The bittersweet must be taken in small doses, as large doses can bring on side effects such as dryness, and heat with stinging pain in the face, the person may experience great thirst, discomfort in the stomach, he or she may vomit. These symptoms may be accompanied by persistent diarrhea, by prostration or syncope, as well as spasmodic twitching all over the body. In some people, large doses of the herb can lead to a depression in the action of the heart and affect the arterial flow of blood; this can bring on a moderate degree of lividity on the hands and face of the person. Side effects can also make the head of the person feels unusually heavy and he or she may be affected by spells of dizziness. The person may also develop a cutaneous erythema. The bittersweet is reputed to be an anaphrodisiac, and is beneficial in the reduction of mania accompanied by the powerful excitement of the venereal functions; it can depress the libido in oversexed individuals. At the same time, in some cases, it is believed to increase venereal desires, and to bring on heat and an itching sensation in the female genitalia along with strangury.

Remedies made from the bittersweet are effective in treating most acute problems associated with colds. The remedy is also helpful in treating chronic skin affections of a pustular, vesicular, or scaly character especially if the disorder has affected the person for a long period of time. Bittersweet remedies have principally been used in syrups or decoctions for treating cutaneous diseases, to treat syphilitic diseases, as well as rheumatic and cachectic problems. Bittersweet decoctions and syrups are also used in treating ill-conditioned ulcers, to treat problems like scrofula, as well as in the treatment of indurations from milk, leucorrhoea, jaundice, and menstrual problems caused by vaginal obstruction. Bittersweet remedies are also very effective in treating scaly cutaneous diseases than other types of disorders; they are used in alleviating leprosy, tetter, and porrigo, particularly when combined with other useful herbs such as the guaiacum and the root of the yellow dock herb.

Remedies made from the bittersweet are effective in the treatment of catarrhal disorders – these are problems that result due to cold or suspended cutaneous action. Bittersweet is also effective in treating suppression of normal menstruation, especially when it is accompanied by symptoms such as a persistent headache, nausea, and chilly sensations – such problems occur when the menstrual flow has been arrested by cold. Small doses of the bittersweet remedy are useful in treating problems like dyspnoea, cough, and pain in the chest produced by exposure to cold weather. Bittersweet remedies are also useful in relieving catarrhal headache induced by acute colds, and this remedy is also helpful in treating nasal catarrh. The herb is also a remedy for retrocession of eruptions and slows down eruptions on the skin. Bittersweet is alternative and can be used as a general remedy, it has a mild action on the stomach and actively aids in the secretion and excretion processes occurring in the body. The bittersweet remedy is also useful in treating vesical catarrh, particularly if the disorder is aggravated by dampness. The remedy has also been found to be helpful in the treatment of catarrhal diarrhea affecting children. It is also effective in dealing with acute and chronic rheumatism in people who are overexposed to the cold or who dwell in cold or damp areas. Bittersweet has been used to successfully treat nymphomaniacs and satyriasis. When used in small doses, pudendal itching and stitching pains can be relieved by bittersweet. Bittersweet remedy taken in large doses will, however, have the opposite effect and produce these symptoms in a person. Syrup prepared using equal parts of the twigs, mixed with the root of the yellow dock herb and the stilling is helpful in treating scrofulous disorders, the same can be used in treating syphilitic disorders as well. The bittersweet is also prepared as a lotion or ointment for external problems; it is employed as a discutient for treating painful tumors. The ointment is used as a topical application in treating some types of cutaneous diseases, ulcers, and erysipelatous disorders.

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Native To

The bittersweet herb is a native plant of Europe, parts of North Africa, and some parts of northern Asia. The herb is now naturalized in North America and grows in the wild. Bittersweet is a fairly common plant, found along roads and paths, it blooms well in open areas and wastelands. The root bark is gathered in fall while the twigs are collected in the spring or in the fall.


Bittersweet contains steroidal alkaloids (including solasodine and soldulcamaridine), steroidal saponins, and about 10% tannins.

Common Dosages

Dosages for the herbal infusion made from the bittersweet herb can be two doses of the herb daily. The herbal infusion can be prepared by pouring a cup of boiling water on a teaspoonful of the dried herb and letting the herb infuse into the water ten minutes.
An herbal bittersweet tincture can also be used in the treatment of different disorders. Use one to two ml of the herbal tincture three times daily.

 Harvesting of Bittersweet

The collection of the stems of bittersweet takes place in the months of September and October while the leaves are collected during the summer months.

The Pernicious Diaries ~ Mayapple

Podophyllum peltatum

Also, Known As

  • American Mandrake
  • Ducks Foot
  • Ground Lemon
  • Hog Apple
  • Indian Apple
  • Lang-to
  • Love Apples
  • Mandragora
  • Mandrake
  • Mayapple
  • Raccoon Berry
  • Umbrella Plant
  • Wild Lemon
  • Wild Mandrake

Mayapple is a perennial herb that is normal between one to two feet in height. The plant bears leaves of which one or two open out like an umbrella and has only one white flower that blossoms below the leaves. The plant has a chunky rhizome or tuber that is reddish brown in color. The mayapple plant bears fruits that are small and yellow in color.

The mayapple plants are found in abundance in the woodlands and hence the umbrella-like leaves are common in these areas. In fact, the North American Indians were familiar with mayapple plant and appreciated the plant’s laxative (substances that promote bowel movements, either by irritating the lower colon or by bulking the stool) properties. They used the herb to cure worms in the intestines, warts (moles) and sometimes also as an insecticide for their crops. It seems that the North American Indians had recognized the herb’s toxic or noxious properties. It may be mentioned here that there are reports that some of these Indians even consumed the mayapple with a view to committing suicide.

The North American Indians also ate the mayapple fruits – the lone part of the herb that is not toxic. Incidentally, though it is said to be tasteless, many people eat the mayapple fruits even today. According to a 19th-century botanist, mayapple fruits are useless and tasted syrupy something, according to him, was a favorite with small boys, pigs and raccoon’s (a small animal with grayish-black fur, black patches around the eyes, and a long bushy ringed tail usually found in North and Central America).

Mayapple has a clambering rhizome or tuber that is as thin as a pencil and grows up to six feet. This part of the plant is of medicinal use and is harvested in autumn when the plants die down. Soon after harvesting, the rhizomes are dried and pulverized into fine particles. Despite being used to treat various disorders that range from liver problems to cancer, mayapple is still best known for its advantages as a laxative. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the U.S. has listed the use of mayapple as ‘unsafe’ owing to its potent purgative (a substance used for removal of bowels) measures.

Common Parts Used


Use of Mayapple


Mayapple owes its Latin name to the Greek words podos and phyllon denotating foot-shaped leaves. On the other hand, when translated into English, the term pelta tum means ‘shield-like’. It is important to note here that while the matured mayapple fruit is edible and many even prepare jellies and juices with it, the plant’s roots, leaves, seeds as well as the raw fruits are all said to be toxic. Since the adults are always concerned that their children should stay away from the mayapple for its toxicity, the innocent children are made to believe that the plant is looked after by the devil. Earlier, the indigenous Americans used the root, fruit and even the decoction (extracting an important ingredient of a plant by boiling it) of the entire plant to prepared insecticides.

Ancient records show that the American ethnic groups also drank a ferment prepared from the dehydrated and crushed rhizome or tubers of mayapple as a medication to cure worms in the intestines. They also used the substance as a remedy for snakebite as also as a laxative to clear bowel movements. In earlier days, mayapple was used as an ingredient for preparing laxative and sold over the counter as a medicine known as ‘Carter’s Little Liver Pills”. Presently, herbal practitioners use extracts from the mayapple plant on the surface to cure genital warts or moles and also sometimes to combat skin cancers. According to researchers, podophyllotoxin, a fatal ingredient of the herb, stops cell division and also possesses features that are able to restrain tumors. Significantly, the FDA in the United States has approved two drugs – etoposide and teniposide – prepared from podophyllotoxin for use in the country. While etoposide is administered to cure testicular and small cell lung cancer, teniposide is used in conditions like a brain tumor and infancy leukemia. However, the FDA has banned the use of the substance as a laxative keeping in view the herb’s toxic nature.

Notwithstanding the confidence of the people regarding the safety of using the mayapple in the 19th century, the drug is no more taken internally owing to its cytotoxic or action or ability to kill cells. Nevertheless, the root can be beneficial in treating all types of moles if poultices, cream or ointment prepared from it is applied externally.

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Habitat of Mayapple

The mayapple plant is native to the eastern regions of the United States and parts of southern Canada. The American mayapple normally grows on small patches of land or plots.


Over the years, scientists have conducted extensive research on the lignans (a phenol amalgam mainly present in plants and are through to safeguard human beings from tumors and viruses) present in mayapple. The researchers have found that especially podophyllotoxin is effective in combating tumors. Now scientists are researching to discover the anti-cancer potential of podophyllotoxin. It is believed that semi-artificial or synthetic podophyllotoxin derivative has the maximum potential in combating cancer and they are also said to have the smallest amount of toxicants.


The rhizome of mayapple contains lignans (especially podophyllotoxin), flavonoids, resin, and gums. The lignans are responsible for the rhizome’s purgative action.

The Pernicious Diaries ~ Burdock

Arctium lappa

Also, Known As:

  • Bardana
  • Beggar’s Buttons
  • Bur
  • Burdock
  • Burdock Burrs
  • Burrs
  • Burr Seed
  • Cockle Buttons
  • Grass Burdock
  • Great Burdock
  • Hardock
  • Hareburr
  • Hurrburr
  • Lappa
  • Lappa Minor
  • Niu Bang
  • Personata
  • Thorny Burr
  • Turkey Burrseed

The dried root of the burdock species of plants is used to make an herbal remedy known simply as the burdock. This remedy is actually made from the dried first-year root of the great burdock – botanical name: Arctium lappa L., or from the roots of the common burdock – botanical name: Arctium minus of the plant family Asteraceae found in the temperate regions of the world. The great burdock is not grown widely in the United States and has been naturalized in many parts of the country while it is found to be growing in the wild in continental Europe – to which it is native. The common burdock is the main source of the root for the preparation of the herbal remedy in America. The burdock species from both areas are hardy and coarse biennial herbs, which can grow quite large, they are characterized by bearing many hooked bracts or the sticky burrs which often cling to animal fur and clothing and are dispersed in this way. The great burdock – A. lappa is quite large in size and can grow up to nine feet in height, as for the smaller common burdock, the A. minus – a height of five feet seems to be the maximum size.

The remedy called the burdock has been widely utilized in the treatment of many types of disorders such as various chronic skin conditions affecting individuals, like common psoriasis and acne – this remedy is also used extensively as a blood purification agent and an internal body cleanser. A diaphoretic ability, as well as a diuretic action, is attributed to the burdock and these properties benefit many people affected by urogenital problems. At the same time, it must be mentioned that even though all these properties are attributed to the plant, they are still to be verified in recorded and established clinical trials, the actual presence of any of these positive effects still needs to be verified in scientific studies. At the same time, the chemical composition of the burdock under analysis shows comparatively high levels of the carbohydrate insulin, and with this other compounds such as plant-based volatile oils, different types of fatty oils, the carbohydrate sucrose, burdock resin and tannin and other chemicals are also seen. The chemical analysis of the fresh burdock root during one interesting study showed the presence of at least fourteen different polyacetylene compounds in the root of the burdock, bacteriostatic as well as fungistatic properties were displayed by at least two of these isolated chemical compounds from the root tissues of the burdock. This is in stark contrast to the dried and commercially medicated version of the burdock which has these chemicals in minuscule trace amounts – the fresh root of the burdock is to be preferred over the dried product for this reason. Root extracts of the burdock also display a mild antibiotic and Chol agogic activity which is of great benefit in the treatment of certain conditions. The ability of the burdock to increase the carbohydrate tolerance in animal models is inferred from a detailed study of the compounds present in the roots and leaves, both of which possess some hypoglycemic activity. Furthermore, the animal model studies also identify the presence of anti-mutagenic activity in the extracts of the burdock.


Some caution is required whenever purchasing marketed herbal burdock products as the root of belladonna herb, also called the deadly nightshade – botanical name Atropa belladonna L.- is often mixed into the burdock for volume. This mixture may not always be from a nefarious motive as both plants possess very similar looking roots of these plants which can often result in creating a great confusion for the cultivator at the time of often harvest and processing. A failure of quality control in the commercial products is also due to the fact that the countries in East Europe are the places from which most of the commercially used burdock originates – needless to say, the processing and control of herbal products are not as rigorous in these countries as it is in the US. The supposed toxic nature of burdock was identified to be the reason for atropine poisoning when the very first cases of atropine poisoning from consumption of herbal burdock tea were reported – the burdock has now been vindicated. However, the picture began to clear both in the United States and in Europe as more cases of such toxic effects from burdock were investigated clinically; contamination of the herbal product using the root of the belladonna herb was found to be the main cause of the toxicity in all cases.

Certification of all marketed burdock products is justified due to this potential danger of contamination, and a case can be made for the necessity to make all herbal marketers of the burdock run relevant detecting tests on their products for any atropine contamination before the release of such herbal products into the open market. However, all potential users of the plant who have adequate botanical knowledge are advised to collect the herbs for personal use directly from fields or buy them from the cultivator as burdock products of guaranteed quality and due certification is still not available in the mass market. The presence of any therapeutic activity in the burdock has not been scientifically verified even though the herb has had a traditional and extensive use as a folk remedy, this lack of positive scientific confirmation of the beneficial effects of burdock is very surprising as the herb remains popular with users. Burdock is also used as a culinary herb; the young leaves of the plant are often consumed as salad greens. Some antimicrobial properties may be present in the young roots of the burdock especially when they are fresh; unfortunately, this is countered by the absence of any confirmed medical value in the dried root of burdock which is marketed as a commercial herbal product.

Plant Parts Used:

Leaves, root, seeds, fruit.

burdock-12Herb Use:

The rapid elimination of accumulated toxins in the blood is accomplished by the burdock. The wonderful and very effective blood cleansing and the strong detoxification ability of the herb is a very well known property of the herb and is made use of by many herbalists around the world. Burdock effectively stimulates the digestive system and the functioning of the liver and also activates the pancreas as the roots, the leaves, and the seeds have a very bitter flavor. These different parts of the burdock herb are used to bolster a weakened digestive system, they are also used to relieve excessive wind and flatulence, the burdock also has a mild laxative action, and is used for the treatment of abdominal distension as well as long-term indigestion. Bacterial and fungal infections which are persistent can be effectively treated using the burdock; the herb is also very helpful in reintroducing and establishing the normal complement of bacteria in the gut of affected patients. The elimination of toxic substances via the urine is also aided by the burdock due to its mild diuretic property. Remedies made from the burdock herb are also used in the treatment of disorders such as water retention problems; they are used in the removal of internal stones and gravel and for treating the disorder called cystitis. Perspiration is induced by the burdock when the herb is ingested in the form of a hot decoction, it can be very effective in this role as a detoxification agent as it can aid in the rapid removal of toxins through the skin along with the perspired liquids. The high temperatures associated with a fever can be reduced by taking burdock, and as soon any signs of feverishness or at the onset of infection, it can be used to bring about rapid recovery and lowering of elevated body temperatures. The treatment of conditions and disorders such as persistent sore throats, long-term tonsillitis, persistent colds, and coughs can also be treated using the seeds of the burdock in the form of teas, tinctures and prepared medications such as tablets and capsules. The time involved in full recovery from skin infections such as the measles and the chicken pox can be increased and speed up by taking burdock remedies – this is because the herb can induce skin eruptions sooner than they would normally appear on their own – this leads to faster healing and recovery times. Many chronic inflammatory disorders including gout, persistent arthritis and rheumatism can also be treated using the burdock herbal remedies, as the herb can effectively push accumulated toxins into the bloodstream for quick elimination via the normal channels in these cases. The action of the sebaceous glands on the skin is also promoted by burdock and for this reason, remedies made from the burdock are effective and excellent for the complete treatment of all kinds of skin diseases affecting patients. Elevated blood sugar levels in diabetics can also be lowered effectively by the burdock and thus the herb can be used in the treatment of blood sugar problems in diabetes affected patients. Traditional medications made from the burdock root have been used to regulate the menstrual periods; this remedy is known to stimulate the functioning of the uterus in women. For this reason, this remedy has traditionally been used for the treatment of prolapse in women; it is also used to strengthen the women before and the following childbirth when physical strength is low.

Where toxicity is a key factor in the onset of the disease, the effective diuretic property, the antibiotic action, as well as the mildly bitter actions of the burdock come into beneficial play and is considered very effective in the treatment of different skin disorders such as the common acne, different types of boils anywhere on the body, in the treatment of abscesses, to treat localized infections of the skin, in the treatment of disorders such as eczema, and in the treatment of psoriasis in individuals affected by the condition.

While the burdock plant is generally used in the making of herbal remedial mixtures with the addition of other beneficial herbs, for example, the dandelion, in a remedy where the other herb is added to balance the strong individual cleansing action of the burdock.

  • Hantavirus
  • Toxic shock syndrome

Habitat of Burdock:

burdock flowerMany temperate areas of the world contain burdock plant though the herb itself is an original and indigenous plant of temperate areas in Europe and Asia, the plant has spread to other temperate regions including the US and now grow in many places in the North American continent. Extensive areas of Europe and China are involved in the cultivation of burdock for the commercial market and the plant is normally propagated during the spring using seeds from the previous harvest. The entire plant is generally dug up and harvested during mid-summer though the seeds themselves are usually harvested as soon as summer begins.


The antibiotic property of the burdock root has been identified and confirmed in many laboratory studies carried out on the burdock plant in Germany – 1967 and in Japan – 1986, these tests have identified the polyacetylenes in the root as being the active antibiotic agents – fresh roots tend to display the strongest antibiotic effects overall.

As has already been mentioned in the previous section, fungicidal as well as bactericidal actions are displayed by burdock based remedies. The herbal remedies made from the burdock also have distinct diuretic and hypoglycemic effects on the body – these remedies are capable of lowering the elevated blood sugar levels in many diabetics. An anti-tumor action is also believed to be present in the burdock though this has still to be confirmed in studies. A chemical compound called arctiin derived from the burdock herb is a relaxant on smooth muscles in the body.


Burdock contains Root/Leaves: glycosides, flavonoids, tannin’s, volatile oil, polyacetylenes, resin, mucilage, insulin, alkaloids, essential oil.
Seeds: essential fatty acids, vitamins A, B 2.

Herb Recommendations:

Use recommendations differ from one traditional herbalist to the other, usually, most herbalists will suggest taking 2-4 ml of the burdock herbal root tincture as a single dose daily during treatment. Dosages for the dried herbal root preparation which come in the form of capsules also differ, in this case, the normal dose can be about 1-2 grams of the herb taken three times daily during the duration of the treatment. Combinations of the burdock root with different alternative herbs are also found in many herbal medications, thus, burdock is often combined with other beneficial herbs including the yellow dock, the red clover, or the cleavers, dosages for these sorts of medications are usually printed on the label and must be followed strictly.


Drinking a combination catnip and burdock based herbal tea is a very effective remedy to eliminate stubborn kidney stones and gallstones affecting a person. To prepare this combination herbal drink, boil four cups of water and then add two tbsp. of finely chopped and fresh burdock, if this is not available, and then the diced dried root may be used. Let the herb steep into the boiling water for some time, and then reduce the heat on the stove to let the herbs simmer for about ten minutes, keep the pot covered with a lid as it is being heated. At this time, three tsp. of the finely chopped and fresh or the diced dried catnip herb can now be added to the mixture immediately following the removal of the pot from the source of heat. The dried catnip must be allowed to steep in the liquid for about one and a half hours till the essence from the herb begins to seep into the drink. Following this, the liquid can be strained into cups using a good mesh and to each cup of the strained herbal decoction, must be added one tsp. lemon juice followed by half a tsp. pure maple syrup to sweeten the herbal liquid, the herbal drink can also be sweetened using the blackstrap molasses if maple syrup is not available. The herbal drink so prepared must always be drunk slowly or sipped in small amounts for a long time. Every dose of the herbal burdock and catnip drink must be followed exactly ten minutes later, by an oral dose of 1 tbsp. pure virgin olive oil. The same dosage regimen must be repeated at least thrice every day of the treatment period. Irritated tissues within the body are soothed and alleviated by the herbal burdock and catnip tea, at the same time it enables the disintegration and elimination of toxins and partially dissolves internal stones, a lubricating action is provided by the secondary dose of the virgin olive oil and the dissolved stones are eliminated easily from the body due to this action. During the period of treatment, care should be taken regarding the diet, and greasy or fried foods, all kinds of carbonated soft drinks, all refined carbohydrates such as commonly used white flour and white sugar products must be avoided, it is also important to avoid all red meat and poultry till treatment is over. If this dietary elimination of some foods is not undertaken during the treatment period, then the chances of total and complete success may not become a reality and cannot be guaranteed for the patient. Patients must sleep on the right side of their bodies at night, once they have finished consuming the last cup of herbal tea and spoonful of olive oil for the day, lie down on the right side with a pillow underneath the armpit for support and then go to sleep. The removal and elimination of stones from the body are eased and hasten by taking this resting posture according to some traditional experts.

Possible Side Effects and Precautions:

Side effects though rare are not unknown, and as far as the use of the burdock root remedies in the dosages stated are concerned – they will pose no problems or side effects. At the same time, caution is advised on the use of the burdock by women during pregnancy as taking very large quantities of the burdock root can actively stimulate the uterus and create a multitude of problems for the woman concerned.

How Burdock Works in the Body:

Traditional treatment of kidney stones and gout has been carried out utilizing the effective and very strong diuretic effect possessed by the plant; burdock remains a standard remedy for such ailments in many traditional systems of medications around the world. Aside from these disorders, different rheumatic conditions are also usually treated using the burdock. The burdock is used extensively in the treatment of psoriasis, eczema, boils and many different skin ailments affecting people. The burdock possesses strong alternative or blood cleansing properties that aid in the quick and rapid removal of waste products arising within the body as a result of metabolic processes. The acetogenin of the burdock is known to be very effective against malignant and benign tumors in the body and the burdock is also known to rapidly lower the elevated blood sugar levels in the body. The presence of the polyacetylenes in the fresh root of burdock is believed to endow the plant with a very strong antibiotic quality, which is very useful for the rapid treatment of infections in the body. The burdock is extensively used in the Republic of China to treat various catarrhal disorders and it also finds use in the treatment of persistent fevers, hacking coughs, and long-term sore throat. The Chinese also use the burdock to treat different infective diseases such as the mumps and as an early medication in the initial stages of measles. The performance of the liver is aided by the burdock, and the herb can also stimulate the digestive system and enables rapid digestion by increasing the production of enzymes within the body. Intestinal constipation is also treated using the burdock in China. Burdock is attributed with acrid, bitter, and cold properties in the Chinese system of medicine.


 DECOCTION – The root of the burdock can be made into an herbal decoction, this remedy is extensively used as a topical herbal ointment to treat various skin disorders in people, these disorders include different sores, dry scaly eczema and particularly the very persistent types of boils. Repeated use of the herbal remedy over a long period of time will ensure that the conditions get treated soon.
TINCTURE – The root of the burdock is also used to prepare an herbal tincture and this is often combined with various herbs possessing anti-arthritic and digestive qualities, these herbs include the yellow dock, a herb that aids in the detoxification of the entire system and helps in stimulating the digestive system, this herbal combination remedy is also useful for the treatment of urinary stones and the transport of ingested gravel out of the system.
POULTICE – The burdock root can also be used in the preparation of an herbal poultice for the topical treatment of skin disorders and injuries. This remedy can be applied directly to sores on the skin and used in treating leg ulcers in people affected by such problems.
WASH – The roots of the burdock can be used in the preparation of a herbal decoction, which can be used as an herbal wash to cleanse areas of skin affected by acne and different types of fungal skin infections including the common fungal disorders, such as athlete’s foot and the ringworm – both of which normally affect many people.
 INFUSION – The leaves of the burdock can be used in the preparation of an herbal leaf infusion and this can be used in the treatment of disorders such as indigestion, where half a cup of the infusion can be taken as single doses just before eating food to prevent the occurrence of indigestion. The herbal leaf infusion has also a mild stimulation action on the digestive system.
POULTICE – The leaves of the burdock can also be prepared into an herbal poultice for the topical treatment of different disorders in the body, thus the poultice can be applied to all types of bruises and inflammatory reactions on the skin, this herbal remedy is also very effective against acne and other common skin problems.
INFUSED OIL – Leaves of the burdock can be used to prepare a hot herbal infusion, this remedy is used for the treatment of varicose ulcers in patients.
 DECOCTION – The seeds of the burdock can be used to make an herbal decoction, this remedy can be used to bring relief from feverish colds, it can be used by people affected with a persistent sore throat and coughs. Skin eruptions can also be treated with the seed decoction along with heartsease.

Skin-saving poultice:

  • 1 burdock leaf
  • 1 egg white, beaten until stiff

Using a piece of cloth, prepare a poultice by combining the egg white and the crushed burdock leaf. Replace 2 to 3 times a day.
In the case of a recent burn or painful wound, apply this poultice quickly.

The Pernicious Diaries ~ Henbane

Hyoscyamus niger

Also, Known As

  • Black Henbane
  • Devils eye
  • Henbane
  • Hog Bean
  • Jupiter’s Bean
  • Poison Tobacco
  • Stinking Nightshade

Henbane, (botanical name, Hyoscyamus niger) belonging to the Solanaceae family, usually grows up to a height of two feet and bears big, light green leaves that have an oval shape with acutely toothed periphery. The stem and leaves of this herb are covered with minute hair-like bristles. Henbane produces blossoms during the period of July-August. The shape of the flowers resembles bells and they grow to about one-fourth inch in length. The petals have a mustard-yellow hue with purplish-brown veins and throats. The seeds of henbane are sheltered in capsules or pods that are about half-an-inch in length. The plant obtained its common name ‘henbane’ way back in 1265. While the source of the word still remains vague, but it is believed that the word “hen” might have initially denoted death, instead of mentioning about chickens.

Traditionally, henbane has been an ingredient of the witches’ brew and, hence, the herb has rightly suffered an ominous reputation since the pre-historic days. The sedative alkaloids scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine are all obtained from this horrible, bad-odor weed. It is important to note that every part of henbane is venomous. Ingestion of henbane by humans may cause a number of common side effects, including dilated pupils, hallucinations, flushed skin, and restiveness. In addition, ingestion of this toxic plant may also result in other side effects, such as vomiting, convulsions, hypertension, tachycardia (abnormally rapid heartbeat), ataxia (lack of muscle coordination) and hyperpyrexia (unusually high fever).

In earlier times, people employed henbane in the form of a sedative or tranquilizer to help alleviate spasms and pain. However, deciding on a safe dose of this herb has always been a difficult job and, hence, medical practitioners had virtually left the herb alone for a long time. For John Gerard, the Elizabethan herbalist, henbane poisoning was something similar to alcohol poisoning, as in both cases the victim suffered from a state of unconsciousness that was followed by comatose sleep. Mashed leaves of henbane were supposedly used externally in the form of a dressing to alleviate the pain caused by rheumatism. According to an advice in an Anglo-Saxon medical text, when an individual is unable to sleep, he/ she should blend henbane seed and the juices extracted from garden mint and shake the combination before daubing the head with it, and this will help to induce sleep.

Here is a word of caution for all those using or intend to use henbane. This herb may not only prove to be toxic but can even be fatal when used in low doses in animals. However, it is interesting to note that all animals are not vulnerable to henbane. For instance, the larvae of a number of Lepidoptera species, counting Cabbage Moth, consume henbane and remain unaffected.


Commonly Used Parts

Leaves, flowering tops, seeds.

Therapeutic Use of Henbane

As a therapeutic herb, henbane has been in use for a very long period and it has been cultivated extensively with a view to fulfilling the requirement for its usage. While all the parts of this herb can be used for medicinal purpose, the leaves and seeds of henbane are especially useful. This herb possesses gently diuretic, antispasmodic, mild analgesic, hypnotic, hallucinogenic, narcotic, pupil-dilating and tranquilizing attributes. While the leaves of the herb are gathered during the second year of the plant’s existence, when it is in full blossom, the seeds are collected when they are completely ripened. When the leaves are mashed, they exude a potent narcotic smell, something comparable to that of tobacco. Hyoscyamine forms the active constituent of henbane, although all familiar medical preparations with the herb are known by the common name Hyoscyamus.

Generally, the extensive use of this herb is found in medications, such as analgesics and sedatives. It is particularly employed to alleviate pain in the urinary tract owing to kidney stones. In addition, this herb is also prescribed to ease abdominal cramps. The antispasmodic and sedative actions of henbane make the herb useful for treating Parkinson’s disease symptoms, alleviating shuddering and firmness, which is quite common during the initial stages of this ailment. In addition, the herb has been employed in the form of a ‘burning’ powder or a cigarette to cure asthma and bronchitis. It is also used topically in the form of an oil to provide relief from excruciating conditions, for instance, rheumatism, sciatica, and even neuralgia. Henbane is useful is lessening the excessive secretion of mucus and saliva along with other digestive juices. Similar to its close relative, the deadly nightshade, this herb also dilates the pupils. Hyoscine is among the active elements enclosed by henbane and it is occasionally employed in the form of an alternative for opium. Generally, hyoscine is used in the form of a pre-operative anesthetic as well as in formulations intended for treating motion sickness.

Although henbane is a potent narcotic, unless it is used inappropriately and imprudently, it may be regarded to be just fairly venomous. Compared to opium, henbane is more effective as a sedative since it does not result in constipation. It is primarily used to induce sleep and get rid of unbalanced nervous actions. This herb is ideal for treating rheumatism, asthma, gout, neuralgia, persistent coughs, exasperations of the urinary tract and other conditions. The leaves of henbane are used in formulations that are applied externally to treat ulcers and distension of the glands. It may be noted that under no circumstance should the herb be employed without consulting an experienced and qualified practitioner of herbal medication.

If the leaves of henbane are left scattered inside the house, it will repel mice.

  • Homeopathy

Habitat of Henbane

Henbane is indigenous to southern regions of Europe and western parts of Asia. Currently, the herb is found growing throughout central and western regions of Europe as well as North and South America, where it has been naturalized over the years. In several regions of Europe, counting England, henbane is grown for medicinal purposes. It is also the same in North America. The leaves and flowers of the herb are collected soon after it has started blossoming during the first year for the annual plants and the second year of the biennial variety of the species.

The high demand for henbane for therapeutic uses makes it essential for people to cultivate the herb, as the variety growing naturally is not insufficient supply. Henbane grows easily in nearly all types of soils – on chalky slopes and in sandy places along the sea coasts. This plant thrives well when it is cultivated in the rich loamy soil.

However, as far as its growth is concerned, henbane is very whimsical or unreliable. In fact, the seeds of this herb have the propensity to remain dormant for one season or even more, often refusing to sprout at all in a number of places and the crop may also vary with no obvious grounds whatsoever. Occasionally, the plants simply die in patches. When grown in some areas close to the marine regions, henbane can be grown very easily. This plant needs a light, reasonably fertile and properly drained soil for flourishing. In addition, it also requires an open and sunlit location. However, the plants do not need much consideration, except ensuring that no weed grows on the ground.

Henbane is generally propagated by its seeds, which need to be sown in an open area during May, or immediately when the ground becomes warm. The seeds should be sown very shallowly in rows of two that are 2.5 feet away from each other. Later, the seedlings are pricked and transplanted very sparsely in rows that have a distance of at least two feet between them, since these plants cannot endure transplanting properly. Therefore, it is advisable that you reserve only the larger seedlings, particularly those having a bluish tinge. The soil where the crop is to be grown ought to have adequate manure and it is important to keep the soil damp until the germination of the seeds. In addition, you need to ensure that the soil is also moist in May and June of their first season of growth. It is also advisable that you should sow the biennial henbane seeds when they ripen naturally, especially during August, in a permeable soil.

Apart from this, you also need to ensure that the soil should never be too moist, particularly during the first winter of the plants’ growth. In fact, if the ground is water-logged, water often goes up to the stalks during wet seasons. On the other hand, drought, as well as frosts in the later part of winter, generally inhibit the growth of the plants making them produce flowers prematurely.

Moreover, you ought to take adequate care while selecting the seed – often commercially available henbane seed is dried in kilns and in such cases, they become useless for propagating the plant. To facilitate germination of henbane seeds, they need to be soaked in water for a minimum period of 24 hours prior to planting. When the seeds are soaked in water, infertile seeds float on the surface of the water and, thus, they are eliminated. The completely ripened seeds have a gray color and if you find seeds having yellowish or brown color, you ought to discard them, since they are yet to ripen. Once the seeds have matured fully, let them dry out. Subsequently, sort out the seeds according to their size and only retain the larger seeds for germination.

As henbane seeds are quite small and lightweight, while planting them, mix the seeds well with fine arid soil. Since the survival rate of henbane seedling is very low, it is advisable that you maintain a reserve of seedlings in a box or bed with a view to filling the spaces left by the dead seedlings. However, it may be noted that the success rate of transplanting henbane seedlings is also very poor.

As the young henbane plants are often destroyed by various insects, it often becomes hard to grow this species. There are times when the entire foliage is obliterated by Pegomyia Hyoscyami, leaf-mining fly larvae, and eventually, the crop becomes useless just within a week. Moreover, when the large autumnal leaves of the henbane plants of the biennial type decay during the first year, the big terminal bud is usually obliterated by any of the several species of macro-lepidopterous caterpillars that conceal themselves in the soil. Therefore, it is advisable that you cover the crown or bud of the plant immediately when the leaves decay with the soil mixed with naphthalene or soot with a view to shelter them from being damaged by various insects.

In addition to insects, henbane plants may also decay due to floods in winter provided they are cultivated on ground level. In effect, potato pests prefer the bristly leaves of henbane and, hence, leave a potato patch with a view to survive on the henbane plants. In case there is mildew on the foliage during the summer, you need to dust the plants using powdered sulfur or spray the plants using a solution prepared with half an ounce of a liver of sulfur and two gallons of water.

When you want to conserve henbane seeds with the purpose of using them to propagate the plant, it is advisable that you sever the top portion of the flowering tops in the early stage of blossoming and leave merely about six capsules containing the seeds to mature fully. In effect, the cut flowering shoots may be dried out and sold separately. Cutting the top of the flowering shoots will make certain that the capsules only contain robust seeds, which are likely to produce the biennial variety of this species. It may be noted that poor or weaker seeds are likely to produce less vigorous and important annual variety of henbane.



Chemical analysis of the henbane plant has revealed that it encloses about 0.045 percent to 0.14 percent tropane alkaloids, particularly hyoscine and hyoscyamine. In effect, practically all plants belonging to the Solanaceae family contain hyoscine and hyoscyamine, but henbane contains them in comparatively higher amounts and this is responsible for a more explicitly tranquilizing or narcotic action of henbane in comparison to its other relatives, such as deadly nightshade and thorn apple.

 Harvesting of Henbane

To a great extent, the effectiveness of henbane depends on the time when the leaves of the herb are harvested. It is ideal to collect the leaves when the henbane plant is in full blossom. In the case of the biennial variety of the plants, people generally have a preference for the second year compared to the plants in their first year. In effect, plants that are still in their first year are not as much moist and fetid, offer a lesser amount of extractive and are considered to be less effective therapeutically. While the leaves of the biennial plants are harvested in June or during the first week of July, those of the annual variety are collected in August. When the herb is required in fresh condition, it needs to be cut during the first week of June, since the leaf-mining pests invade the leaves by the second week of June, leaving behind just pieces of the white epidermis.

Henbane needs to be dried out with extreme caution since the attributes of this herb are likely to be obliterated in great measure if it is kept in a damp condition for a prolonged period.

When the fresh leaves of henbane are bruised, they exude a potent, unpleasant narcotic smell, fairly similar to that of tobacco. The fresh leaves have a mucilaginous (soft, moist and viscid) and to some extent an acrid flavor. However, to a great extent, this typical smell of the leaves fade away when they are dried, but then the bitter flavor becomes more predominant. When the dried out leaves are put into the fire, they burn producing a crackling sound, which is attributed to the nitrate content in the plants. Simultaneously, the burning henbane leaves also exude a potent smell.

Seeds of henbane ought to be collected during August either for therapeutic purposes or for drying them in a kiln. However, the treatment of the seeds makes them ineffective for culture and it is important to dry the seeds in the sun if they are to be used for propagation. The capsules or pods enclosing the seeds ought to be collected before their tops split open. Subsequently, the seeds are shaken out and dried out in the sun.

The Pernicious Diaries ~ 3 Toxic Plant Lookalikes

Avoid these poisonous plants that look like garden favorites.

Q. I’m afraid of mixing up edible plants with toxic ones. Any tips?

A. During the winter and early spring, before plants mature in size and begin to bloom, it is easy to misidentify the green friends and foes. Even well-seasoned gardeners and naturalists can be fooled by the foliage of new growth. In my herb garden, I allow volunteer seedlings from established plants and gifts brought to the garden by birds, moving mammals and the wind. In wild, uncultivated spaces, diversity reigns. While the “innocent-until-proven-guilty” policy can be rewarding, to stay safe one must be certain of the identity of botanicals before ingesting them—some useful herbs have harmful lookalikes.

Four herbs that have similarly shaped wooly leaves are comfrey (Symphytum officinale), Russian comfrey (S. ×uplandicum), wild comfrey (Cynoglossum virginianum) and foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). It is easy to confuse these plants in the early spring. They all have hirsute leaves and like to grow near trees and in humus-rich soil.

All of these plants that share the common name comfrey have been used medicinally in folk traditions. Symphytum poultices and infusions have been used externally to treat bruises and sprains. Home herbalists who choose to drink the tea or swallow any part of the plants should be warned that Symphytum comfrey contains dangerous pyrrolizidine alkaloids that are toxic to the liver. Internal use of these plants is not recommended by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and, since July 2001, products that were meant to be taken internally that contained comfrey and other plants with pyrrolizidine alkaloids have been removed from the market. Nevertheless, some people continue to use comfrey internally.

Wild comfrey (Cynoglossum virginianum) is native to eastern U.S. deciduous forests. Though it is listed on the FDA Poisonous Plant Database, I was unable to find any documentation of human fatalities from eating, drinking an infusion or smoking the leaves of this plant. Wild comfrey is listed in A Field Guide to Medicinal Plants Eastern and Central North America (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2000) by Steven Foster and James Duke as a herb used by Native Americans and by herbalists in the 19th century as a substitute for Symphytum.

foxglove comfrey lookalikesPeople who ingest any of the comfreys should be careful not to mistake them for foxglove (Digitalis purpurea). This beautiful but deadly cottage garden biennial has escaped from cultivation, naturalizing in moist, shady locations in temperate climates. The leaves contain the cardiac glycoside digitoxin. In carefully measured therapeutic doses, Digitalis saves lives as a modern medication against heart failure. According to A Field Guide to Venomous Animals and Poisonous Plants (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1994) by Steven Foster and Roger Caras, mistaking Digitalis for Symphytum has caused accidental fatal poisonings.

Two other common garden plants with somewhat similar leaves, especially in the spring, are garlic (Allium sativum) and daffodils (Narcissus spp.). Both have long, slender and flat leaves that are attached to bulbs below the earth. The best way to tell the difference between toxic Narcissus and the alliums is by using the sense of smell. Daffodils have none of the characteristic sulfur odor of the alliums. Narcissus bulbs and leaves contain the alkaloid lycorine. Fatalities are rare, but the symptoms include bloody diarrhea, vomiting, body tremors and extreme salivation.

daffodil garlic lookalikeApiaceae is the new name for members of the old Umbelliferae, or umbrella, family, to which a host of useful foods and culinary herbs and a few famously deadly plants belong. While most urban gardeners need not worry about mistaking poison hemlock for a carrot, wild foods enthusiasts need to be very careful to know one from the other.

The mother of all carrots is called Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota). It is a biennial, native to temperate Europe and Asia, that has naturalized throughout much of the eastern United States. The leaves are finely cut and resemble carrot foliage; the stems are hairy. The roots are white and can be dug and used just like carrots in the first year of growth. Queen Anne’s lace grows in high and dry places such as meadows, gardens and along roadsides. The roots tend to be small and tough when found growing on the uncultivated land. A shrewd wild foods forager might venture down to lower ground, such as a ditch (where the soil is rich and damp) in search of larger roots. Beware, though—poisonous members of the Apiaceae family often grow in these places.

hemlock queen lace lookalike

Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), like Queen Anne’s lace, is a biennial. The difference between them is that poison hemlock is usually much larger and has hollow, grooved, smooth stems with purple splotches. Be careful not to get the wrong seedling, as a small nibble can cause paralysis and a nasty death.

 Be not afraid—rather, be well-informed and cautious when wildcrafting and harvesting unfamiliar plants for food or medicine. Study your field guides, attend hikes and classes led by knowledgeable individuals, and most importantly, do no harm.

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