Is bittersweet nightshade poisonous to touch?

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How To Get Rid Of Nightshade

If you want to know how to get rid of nightshade, you need to remember that it can be difficult, but it is not impossible. Nightshade is not a pleasant plant to have around and is poisonous to small children and pets (like dogs and cats), which may be attracted to nightshade berries. You definitely want to plan on getting rid of nightshade, especially the creeping type, which can quickly take over. For this reason, many people want to know how to kill nightshade.

About Nightshade Weeds

Nightshade has many members, all having toxic properties. While some nightshade plants include those in which we commonly cultivate in gardens, like tomatoes and potatoes, it’s the weedy, creeping varieties that are most likely to cause issues in the landscape.

Some of the more common of these nightshade weeds include:

  • Climbing nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), or bittersweet, is a trailing/climbing perennial with bluish-purple flowers and bright red berries.
  • Hairy nightshade (Solanum sarrachoides) is an annual weed with white flowers and yellowish-brown berries.
  • Black nightshade (Solanum nigrum) is another annual type with white flowers followed by black to dark purple berries.
  • Belladonna nightshade (Atropa belladonna), also known as deadly nightshade or enchanter’s nightshade, is oftentimes seen planted in gardens but, in some cases, this nightshade member can get out of hand or may simply be in need of removal for safety reasons. This perennial has reddish-purple to greenish-purple flowers and purple-black berries.

All these common nightshade weeds can be handled in much the same way when getting rid of them. As with any type of weed removal, try natural control options first and then move on to chemical control methods as a last resort.

Killing Nightshade Naturally

One way of getting rid of nightshade is to dig it out. This method works if you don’t have a whole lot of the plant around. Be sure to dig deep enough to get all the roots so you don’t have new growth.

Remember that when killing nightshade, frequent and thorough cultivation is absolutely necessary so that these plants do not come back.

How to Get Rid of Nightshade

This plant is extremely vicious and will come back after most treatments with anything that is a simple natural remedy. Remember that this is a poisonous plant and, as such, it is difficult to get rid of. It takes some thought and persistence when trying to get rid of nightshade.

You can try killing nightshade by using an herbicide that is non-selective; however, this will not only kill nightshade but also anything around it, so be careful when using it. You don’t want to get any overspray on your other plants or shrubs while working on getting rid of nightshade. In addition, be sure to apply the herbicide when the temperature is above 60 degrees F. (15 C.), and make sure it is not going to rain for at least 24 hours. This way the weed killer doesn’t wash away, or you will have to start all over.

If, after a few days, you see the leaves on the nightshade start turning yellow, you have been successful in killing nightshade. Once they die off, dig out the plants as soon as possible, making sure to get as much of the root structure as possible. You might have to repeat this process more than once to get rid of nightshade plants completely.

As you can see, it is not impossible killing nightshade, but it does take some planning and work. A little diligence definitely pays toward your success.

Note: Chemical control should only be used as a last resort, as organic approaches are safer and much more environmentally friendly.

A wild strawberry, including a fruit.

Q: Over the years, I’ve had a small patch of a vine-type weed. Each stem has three leaves about a half-inch wide with rough edges. Some have little red fruits that look like a miniature strawberry. Can you tell me what this is and how I can get rid of them?

A: That’s a wild strawberry. It’s actually one of the parents of the kind of strawberry we now buy in grocery stores and is edible (although not nearly as sweet and juicy as what we’re used to eating).

This type of strawberry spreads primarily by birds and small mammals eating the fruits, then pooping them out in new areas. Once the plants germinate, they spread fast by runners. The “babies” root as they go, and in time, some dense and vigorous colonies can spread to choke out grass.

Assuming you don’t want a spreading crop of little strawberries, these can be eliminated by the usual methods for broad-leaf “weeds.”

Those include pulling, spot-spraying with a liquid broad-leaf weed-killer for lawns (lots of brands in garden centers) or by spot-spraying with a kill-everything herbicide, such as Round-Up or acetic- or citric-acid based “natural” weed-killers. A propane flame weeder or dousing them boiling water also kills most things green (generally a strategy for wild strawberries in garden beds as opposed to lawns).

Coming out next spring are a couple of brands of broad-leaf weed-killers using chelated iron to kill weeds. Those are labeled for organic gardening, and from what I’ve seen so far, they work pretty well in killing most broad-leaf plants but not grass. Bayer and Scotts are both debuting brands.

It may take some repeated digging and/or re-treatments to get rid of all the colonies. Once they’re gone, mulch to prevent new seeds from sprouting. Or use a weed preventer such as corn gluten meal or Preen for a year or two if you’re concerned about an immediate comeback.

Personally, I’d dig to eliminate the current crop and mulch or plant a preferred groundcover to head off any reinfestations. Thickening the lawn with more grass seed would do the same thing to head off new wild strawberries there.

While many of you undoubtedly spent summer engrossed in the latest New York Times bestselling beach reads, around here, the books we can’t put down are Weeds of the Northeast by Richard H. Uva, Joseph C. Neal and Joseph M. DiTomaso, and Weeds of North America by Richard Dickinson and France Royer.

Both are indispensable guides to the pesky weeds that gardeners in North America regularly come upon in beds, borders, meadows and woodlands. Weeds of the Northeast was published in 1997 by Cornell University Press. At nearly 400 pages, it offers color photos of 299 weeds at various stages of their lifecycles – starting at the seedling stage. Weeds of North America was published in 2014 by the University of Chicago Press. It covers roughly 500 species of weeds, and includes color photos showing the majority of them at stages from seed to flower. (Interestingly, it also lists plant viruses that each weed could introduce into your garden and which may be harmful to other plants.)

As we continue to pull weeds from our gardens, we thought you might like a primer on 10 of the most common types that might be appearing in yours.

Common pokeweed (Phytolacca Americana L.)

Common Pokeweed (Phytolacca Americana L.)

You can tell a lot by a nickname, and this one is commonly known as Inkberry (for its dark reddish-purple berries), Red Ink Berry (for the color that’s released when the berries are crushed), and American Cancer (for the toxicity of the leaves and fruits). The one thing Pokeweed is not is a poke. The herbaceous perennial emerges in spring and, left untended, achieves the height of a small tree. It will climb over shrubs and grow alongside trees. You’ll recognize the seedlings by their oval green leaves, which often have a hint of reddish purple. As they begin to stretch, you’ll see that the stems are also a reddish-purple. Green berries emerge in clusters, gradually changing to a gleaming purple-black. The shape of the berries is distinctive, too, like round balls that have been slightly flattened on each side. Large taproots make these a contest to remove, but it’s worth winning.

Canadian Clearweed (Pilea pumila)

Canadian Clearweed (Pilea pumila)

This summer annual has watery, almost translucent stems that remind us of Impatiens. The fresh, shiny green leaves are opposite and have three pronounced central veins and serrated edges. The small flowers emerge from leaf axils and appear in clusters on the upper portions of the stems. Pull this weed, and it gives way very easily, which may account for our benign feelings about it.

Black Swallowwort Vine (Cynanchum nigra)

Black Swallowwort Vine (Cynanchum nigra)

The bane of many a northeastern gardener, this twining, vining perennial can twist itself around shrubs and small trees. It has dark green leaves, purple-black fruit, and, most unhappily, a large root crown, which makes removal an Olympic sport.

“Although primarily a woodland species, black swallowwort has become an invasive weed in recently cleared areas, conservation habitats, Christmas tree plantations, nursery crops, and other perennial crops such as alfafa. It also grows in fields, pastures, and waste places and along fence rows, often in sunny areas and calcareous soils,” write Uva, Neal, and DiTomaso. In short, it can be everywhere. Our recommendation: Dig it out to be certain you’re getting it by the roots, or you’ll be seeing it in perpetuity.

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare)

Sometimes confused with Canada thistle, this biennial is distinguished by its leaves, which are spiny above and woolly below (Canada thistle leaves are the opposite: smooth above and smooth or spiny below), and by its taproot (Canada thistle spreads by rhizomes.) Bull thistle favors rich, moist soil. It presents in spring as a rosette of leaves that are prostrate to the ground then develops a stem, which is punctuated by lance-shaped, serrated leaves. Bulbous lavender-purple fruit appears at the tops of stems.

Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense)

This perennial is hard to miss, especially if you’ve had the misfortune to step on it or come upon it ungloved. The spiny leaves appear first as a prostrate basal rosette and gradually lengthen. Allowed to mature, the Canada thistle will sprout stems topped by lavender-purple flower heads that open to release seeds that scatter in the wind. Where there is one, you may expect many more as Canada thistle spreads by rhizomes.

Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis, Digitaria ischaemu Schreb. ex. Muhl, DIGIS, and Digitaria ciliaris (Retz.) Koel, DIGSP)

Crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis, Digitaria ischaemu Schreb. ex. Muhl, DIGIS, and Digitaria ciliaris (Retz.) Koel, DIGSP)

This one needs no introduction. There are three common varieties, Large crabgrass (Digitaria sanguinalis), Smooth crabgrass (Digitaria ischaemum Schreb. ex. Muhl, DIGIS), and Southern crabgrass (Digitaria ciliaris (Retz.) Koel, DIGSP). All are the bane of gardeners everywhere. The blade-shaped green leaves emerge along prostrate stems. The fibrous roots always seem to be rooted in cement because they’re just that difficult to pull out. The part of the plant that’s above-ground seems always to snap off in your hand before the roots can be dislodged so use a weeding tool to loosen the soil then pull.

Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea L.)

Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea L.)

Also known as Ground Ivy, this is not an ugly weed, it’s just a perpetual land-grabber. It creeps along the ground by runners, each node setting down new roots as the spreading continues. It’s especially fond of vaulting the distance between lawns and garden beds, and it will even crawl across the patio, if it can find sufficient footing. The round, scalloped green leaves form a mat-like ground cover, and in spring, purple flowers appear. Grab a string (or six) of stems and give them a tug. You’ll feel individual nodes pop out of the soil. A firmer tug releases the developed fibrous roots at the base of the plant.

Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major L.)

Broadleaf Plantain (Plantago major L.)

We feel a special animosity toward this one, a prostrate grower that holds tenaciously to the soil with a cluster of fibrous roots and single taproot. The broad green, deeply veined leaves hew to the ground, forming a mat from which sprout green flower heads that later turn golden brown.

Bishop’s Weed (Aegopodium podagraria)Variegated Bishop’s Weed

Bishop’s Weed (Aegopodium podagraria)

The variegated form of this super-spreader is called Goutweed. It’s offered at many nurseries as a ground cover, and while quite ornamental, it quickly manifests as a nuisance. To quote the Missouri Botanical Garden’s outstanding website, It “Will rapidly form a continuous mound of attractive foliage typically growing to 8″ tall with an indefinite spread. Unfortunately, once it gets going, it acts like the proverbial snowball going downhill and can be difficult to contain.” While it is easy to remove with a quick tug, you may find the constancy of the job gets tiresome quickly.

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata)

This European native was originally introduced to North America in the 1800s and was valued for its medicinal and culinary properties. But since then, this shade-tolerant biennial has become too common in wooded areas of the eastern and middle of the United States where it crowds out natives. Now regarded as an invasive, it forms basal rosettes of heart-shaped leaves in the first year. The following season, the leaves become more triangular in shape, and the plant sends up a 1–4’ stalk that produces small white flowers in early spring. Apart from identifying the plant by its appearance, you can crush a leaf or stem. If you smell garlic, remove the plant.

Common lambsquarters (Chenopodium album L.)

Common Lambsquarters (Chenopodium album L.)

We find this upright annual in lots of places at the farm where it likes to pop up at the edges of fields and meadows. The gray, felted-looking leaves make it easy to spot along with its broad, branching habit. Left to grow, it can reach heights of 3’ in a single season.

Garden News Blog

Weed of the Month: Bittersweet Nightshade

By Saara Nafici | September 19, 2017

Bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), a small perennial vine originally from Eurasia, puts on a great show in the fall. Its deep purple, five-petaled flowers point downward, with bright yellow stamens shooting out from the center. Flowering and fruiting can happen concurrently, offering a stunning display of vivid blooms and luscious bright red berry clusters. It’s a member of the nightshade family, Solanaceae, and has many of the intriguing characteristics of this important family.

Even if you’ve never heard of the nightshades, you’ve probably eaten one recently. Cultivated members include tomatoes, eggplants, peppers, and potatoes, as well as tobacco. But bittersweet nightshade has less in common with these plants than with belladonna, its famously deadly cousin—all parts of the plant are poisonous to people and livestock. Beware: Those showy, juicy-looking berries can be particularly tempting for children!

Still, “poisonous” is a relative term. Though toxic to people, bittersweet nightshade berries provide an important fall and winter food source for birds, who happily eat the fruit and spread the seeds. With this dissemination help, along with creeping, rooting stems, the plant has become a stubbornly noxious weed in much of the United States. It’s a resilient little plant that can grow in denuded soils and low-light corners. Dense mats of the plant provide habitat for small animals, which may or may not be a welcome service. Those animals could be chipmunks or rats!

More: Browse our Weed of the Month archive.

Bittersweet nightshade has a long history in folk medicine and lore. Used externally in poultices and salves, it was used to remedy psoriasis and other skin afflictions. Mixed with other herbs, small doses were given internally as a diuretic or a purgative—basically to flush the body one way or the other. Sachets of the dried leaves and berries tenderly placed under the pillow were said to help heal a broken heart. And witches, spurned lovers, and farmers alike sought out the plant to protect their animals, homes, and loved ones from the evil eye. Consider the appearance of this witchy weed in your garden an auspicious omen, or at least a boon for our hungry winter birds.

Killer plants: A handy guide to the hidden dangers in your garden

An inquest into whether a deadly plant was responsible for the mysterious death of a gardener has reached an “open verdict”; the coroner said he could not be certain that Nathan Greenway had come into contact with the monkshood flowers on the Hampshire estate where he was working.

For those concerned by the news, but unsure if their garden contains hidden danger, here is a handy guide to some of the most dangerous plants in the UK.

Monkshood

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This plant – also known as aconite, wolf’s bane and devil’s helmet – has been linked with other sudden deaths. The toxins in the plant, which has large leaves with rounded lobes and purple-hooded flowers, can kill by dramatically slowing the heart rate, causing heart attacks. Its toxins can be absorbed through the skin and it is one of Britain’s most poisonous plants. Accidentally consuming even a tiny amount can lead to an upset stomach.

Monkshoods provide a variety of blues

Cuckoo pint

Also known as lords-and-ladies, the species generally grows in woodlands and hedgerows. The flowers are poker-shaped and surrounded by a green leaf-like hood – but it is the bright red and orange berries that pose the danger. If eaten, these can cause significant swelling in the mouth and throat, which can result in difficulty breathing. The lords-and-ladies nickname refers to the plants likeness to male and female genitalia. It is one of the most common causes of plant poisoning.

Cuckoo Pint

Foxglove

Foxglove grows in woodlands and hedgerows and is also a common garden plant popular for its tall stem and, in the most common form, purple flowers. Eating any part of the plant causes vomiting and diarrhoea and can even result in heart attacks. Sucking the flowers or seeds is the most common cause of foxglove poisoning. Contact with the skin can also cause a rash. But the plant has saved far more lives than it has cost as drugs derived from it are used to treat heart conditions.

Deadly nightshade

The berries release a poison that paralyses nerve endings in blood vessels, the heart and gastrointestinal muscles. Symptoms include dilated pupils, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, headaches, confusion and convulsions. Two berries will kill a child, 10 to 20 an adult. Also known as belladonna.

English yew

Almost every part is poisonous, especially the leaves and seeds. Eating these can result in anything from dizziness, dry mouth and dilation of the pupils to irregular heart rhythm and death. On the positive side, yew extract is used to formulate the drug paclitaxel, or Taxol, which slows the growth of cancer.

English Yew (Taxus baccata), underside of twig with berries

Hemlock

This isn’t native to the UK but can be found in most parts of the country – typically in ditches and on riverbanks, waste ground and rubbish tips. If eaten, this tall green plant with purple spots on its stem and white flowers causes sickness. In severe cases it can kill by paralysing the lungs. It belongs to the carrot family. Most famously, it was used to execute Socrates – though his death was probably much more unpleasant than how it was described by Plato.

HemlockThe taste of horror: The berries of the deadly nightshade might taste sweet, but ingestion can be fatal.

The perennial herbaceous plant, Deadly Nightshade, has a very shadowy history, and its use by man throughout the centuries has been a harrowing tale of beauty, life, and death.

Deadly Nightshade is a part of the Solanacae family of flowering plants which includes tomatoes, potatoes, eggplants and more, and can be found growing throughout most of the northern hemisphere. To the untrained eye, this perennial looks perfectly normal, but don’t be deceived, this is far from your average shrub.

During the Middle Ages, a beauty tonic made from the leaves and berries of the Deadly Nightshade was used by Venetian women to redden the pigment of their skin for a blush-like appearance.

The beauty tonic was also used to dilate women’s pupils, a look and practice that was seen as fashionable at the time. It’s from this popularity as a cosmetic that the Deadly Nightshade established its formal name, Atropa Belladonna, meaning “Beautiful Lady” in Italian.

But what began as a beautifying agent quickly became associated with much more malicious activities. It didn’t take long for the plant’s use as a poison began to overtake its use as a beautifying agent.

The horror stories of death and deceit quickly entered the public consciousness and worked their way into the legends and lore of the time. The plant developed a reputation as the poison of choice for assassins and criminals, and folk tales suggest it was the ingredient of choice for occultist potions made by witches and sorcerers.

Symptoms of Deadly Nightshade poisoning include severe hallucinations, delirium, and convulsions.

The compounds that make Deadly Nightshade so lethal are called Atropine and Scopolamine. These toxic ingredients are so powerful that a minuscule amount slipped into a drink or added to a meal can send full grown adults into paralysis, cause severe hallucinations, delirium, confusion, convulsions, and death.

The Nightshade has been a killer of kings, emperors, and warriors throughout history. The Roman military created a deadly paste from the plant that was used to make poison-tipped arrows for archers, a practice that was in use for centuries.

Not even Kings were spared of the terror, as Macbeth, King of Scotland, Emperor Augustus of Rome, and Emperor Claudius of Rome were all laid to rest at the hand of the Deadly Nightshade.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that the notorious poison of Kings reinvented itself one last time.

Every part of the Deadly Nightshade from the roots to the flowers is poisonous.

After centuries of use as a poison and cosmetic, the medicinal uses of Deadly Nightshade were finally realized and made available to treat a variety of illnesses and ailments. Its medical applications include use as a pain reliever, muscle relaxer, anti-inflammatory, and as a treatment for whooping cough and hay fever.

With a history so dark and tumultuous, it’s a miracle the Deadly Nightshade continues to have such a bright future in the world today. Although it is no longer used as a cosmetic, and incidental deaths do still occur, the “Beautiful Lady” saves more lives than she does take them these days.

Be careful. The shrub may look innocent but they are toxic.

Looking to add some indoor plants for the colder months? Check out our blog featuring fall indoor plant tips.

Atropa belladonna L. Solanaceae. Deadly nightshade. Dwale. Morella, Solatrum, Hound’s berries, Uva lupina, Cucubalus, Solanum lethale. Atropa derives from Atropos the oldest of the three Fates of Greek mythology who cut the thread of Life (her sisters Clotho and Lachesis spun and measured the thread, respectively). belladonna, literally, means ‘beautiful lady’ and was the Italian name for it. Folklore has it that Italian ladies put drops from the plant or the fruits in their eyes to make themselves doe-eyed, myopic and beautiful. However, this is not supported by the 16th and 17th century literature, where no mention is ever made of dilated pupils (or any of the effects of parasympathetic blockade). Tournefort (1719) says ‘The Italians named this plant Belladonna, which in their language signifies a beautiful woman, because the ladies use it much in the composition of their Fucus [rouge or deceit or cosmetic] or face paint.’ Parkinson says that the Italian ladies use the distilled juice as a fucus ‘… peradventure [perhaps] to take away their high colour and make them looke paler.’ I think it more likely that they absorbed atropine through their skin and were slightly ‘stoned’ and disinhibited, which made them beautiful ladies in the eyes of Italian males. Distribution: Europe, North Africa, western Asia. Culpeper (1650) writes: ‘Solanum. Nightshade: very cold and dry, binding … dangerous given inwardly … outwardly it helps the shingles, St Antonie’s Fire [erysipelas] and other hot inflammation.’ Most of the 16th, 17th and 18th century herbals recommend it topically for breast cancers. Poisonous plants were regarded as ‘cold’ plants as an excess of them caused death and the body became cold. They were regarded as opposing the hot humour which kept us warm and alive. Poultices of Belladonna leaves are still recommended for muscle strain in cyclists, by herbalists. Gerard (1633) writes that it: ’causeth sleep, troubleth the mind, bringeth madnesse if a few of the berries be inwardly taken, but if more be taken they also kill…’. He was also aware that the alkaloids could be absorbed through the skin for he notes that a poultice of the leaves applied to the forehead, induces sleep, and relieves headache. The whole plant contains the anticholinergic alkaloid atropine, which blocks the peripheral actions of acetylcholine in the parasympathetic nervous system. Atropine is a racemic mixture of d- and l- hyoscyamine. Atropine, dropped into the eyes, blocks the acetylcholine receptors of the pupil so it no longer constricts on exposure to bright light – so enabling an ophthalmologist to examine the retina with an ophthalmoscope. Atropine speeds up the heart rate, reduces salivation and sweating, reduces gut motility, inhibits the vertigo of sea sickness, and is used to block the acetylcholine receptors to prevent the effects of organophosphorous and other nerve gas poisons. It is still has important uses in medicine. Atropine poisoning takes three or for days to wear off, and the hallucinations experienced by its use are described as unpleasant. We have to be content with ‘madness’, ‘frenzie’ and ‘idle and vain imaginations’ in the early herbals to describe the hallucinations of atropine and related alkaloids as the word ‘hallucination’ in the sense of a perception for which there is no external stimulus, was not used in English until 1646 (Sir T. Browne, 1646). It is a restricted herbal medicine which can only be sold in premises which are registered pharmacies and by or under the supervision of a pharmacist (UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)). Photographed in the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, London.

Atropa belladonna L. Solanaceae. Deadly nightshade. Dwale. Morella, Solatrum, Hound’s berries, Uva lupina, Cucubalus, Solanum lethale. Atropa derives from Atropos the oldest of the three Fates of Greek mythology who cut the thread of Life (her sisters Clotho and Lachesis spun and measured the thread, respectively). belladonna, literally, means ‘beautiful lady’ and was the Italian name for it. Folklore has it that Italian ladies put drops from the plant or the fruits in their eyes to make themselves doe-eyed, myopic and beautiful. However, this is not supported by the 16th and 17th century literature, where no mention is ever made of dilated pupils (or any of the effects of parasympathetic blockade). Tournefort (1719) says ‘The Italians named this plant Belladonna, which in their language signifies a beautiful woman, because the ladies use it much in the composition of their Fucus or face paint.’ Parkinson says that the Italian ladies use the distilled juice as a fucus ‘… peradventure to take away their high colour and make them looke paler.’ I think it more likely that they absorbed atropine through their skin and were slightly ‘stoned’ and disinhibited, which made them beautiful ladies in the eyes of Italian males. Distribution: Europe, North Africa, western Asia. Culpeper (1650) writes: ‘Solanum. Nightshade: very cold and dry, binding … dangerous given inwardly … outwardly it helps the shingles, St Antonie’s Fire and other hot inflammation.’ Most of the 16th, 17th and 18th century herbals recommend it topically for breast cancers. Poisonous plants were regarded as ‘cold’ plants as an excess of them caused death and the body became cold. They were regarded as opposing the hot humour which kept us warm and alive. Poultices of Belladonna leaves are still recommended for muscle strain in cyclists, by herbalists. Gerard (1633) writes that it: ’causeth sleep, troubleth the mind, bringeth madnesse if a few of the berries be inwardly taken, but if more be taken they also kill…’. He was also aware that the alkaloids could be absorbed through the skin for he notes that a poultice of the leaves applied to the forehead, induces sleep, and relieves headache. The whole plant contains the anticholinergic alkaloid atropine, which blocks the peripheral actions of acetylcholine in the parasympathetic nervous system. Atropine is a racemic mixture of d- and l- hyoscyamine. Atropine, dropped into the eyes, blocks the acetylcholine receptors of the pupil so it no longer constricts on exposure to bright light – so enabling an ophthalmologist to examine the retina with an ophthalmoscope. Atropine speeds up the heart rate, reduces salivation and sweating, reduces gut motility, inhibits the vertigo of sea sickness, and is used to block the acetylcholine receptors to prevent the effects of organophosphorous and other nerve gas poisons. It is still has important uses in medicine. Atropine poisoning takes three or for days to wear off, and the hallucinations experienced by its use are described as unpleasant. We have to be content with ‘madness’, ‘frenzie’ and ‘idle and vain imaginations’ in the early herbals to describe the hallucinations of atropine and related alkaloids as the word ‘hallucination’ in the sense of a perception for which there is no external stimulus, was not used in English until 1646 (Sir T. Browne, 1646). It is a restricted herbal medicine which can only be sold in premises which are registered pharmacies and by or under the supervision of a pharmacist (UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA)). Photographed in the Medicinal Garden of the Royal College of Physicians, London. Credit: Dr Henry Oakeley. CC BY

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