Sunday, November 7, 2010

What you likely never knew about Nightshade

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Being a fledgling herbalist and a witch to boot, I of course like to at least study the Gothic Plants (datura, nightshade, hemlock, henbane, aconite, etc.)  I was launched into learning more about Nightshade quite by accident when out exploring the local golf course one day.

You see, the golf course by my home actually reserves area for natural prairie to regrow along the course (much to the dismay of many a golfer who has lost their ball in the sectioned-off areas).  When out walking the course, as I am wont (but not supposed) to do, I came across the most beautiful plant, light violet star-shaped flowers, striking red berries.  I fell in love, but had no idea what this plant was so I came back home to do my research.  I found out that it was...WOODY nightshade???  Naturally I was rather confused.  There's more than one type of Nightshade?

Indeed there is, my dear witches.  I know of three particular varieties, each with their own slew of folknames, in fact.  I'm sure there are some I've missed, but these are the three I definitely know about.

The first, and likely the one that most people think of when they hear nightshade, is known as Deadly Nightshade (atropa belladonna).  This plant is an incredibly strong sedative; it puts you to sleep FOREVER.  However it is still used medicinally--with GREAT caution--by doctors as a sleep aid.  I have a friend who was prescribed belladonna tablets because he had so many other medical problems commercial medicines would have affected him negatively.  This plant has BLACK flowers (more a dark purple) and BLACK berries, and is actually pretty rare to find at all, let alone in the wild.

The second, and the one I found that day, is Woody Nightshade (solanum dulcamara).  This is the plant that I find is most confused with belladonna, but while it is in the same family so are petunias, tobacco and potatoes.  This plant is also used medicinally, mostly topically for skin conditions (rashes and the like).  I was a bit surprised when I've seen crafters and witches alike claim this plant to be Deadly Nightshade--it's not terribly toxic, except that if small children eat the berries they can be poisonous (which is the case for most things and small children).  This plant has PURPLE flowers and RED berries, and is an invasive perennial that just might volunteer it's way into your yard--climbing fences and trees in great bounds.

The third is the one I have least experience with, Garden Nightshade (solanum nigrum).  Yes, it's called garden nightshade because people do keep it in their gardens.  This, as with the others, is also used medicinally, though from what I can find more in the cases of fevers and such.  The berries if ingested in large quantities are toxic, though boiling breaks down the toxin and as such they are used in jams and preserves.  This plant has WHITE flowers and BLACK berries.

I'm including links to the wikipedia pages for each so you can find more information for yourself--go get educated!  :-P  If you would like some more information on Gothic Plants in general I would recommend Garden Witch's Herbal by Ellen Dugan.  Recommended listening is "Belladonna and Aconite" by Inkubus Sukkubus.  ;)


  1. Here is a great book, too: "Wicked Plants: the weed that killed Lincoln's Mother and Other Botanical Atrocities: by Amy Stewart. Loaded with useful and often unknown info about plants. Great reference book. thanks for your post, and I do love Ellen Dugan;s books.

  2. Thanks for the information on nightshade - I had no idea there are 3 types. The plant you found is so pretty!

  3. "Woody Nightshade is a common plant in SE Minnesota, a much hated and troublesome weed that tends to kill off our much loved and cared for gardens. I enjoy it though as a welcome addition to my insectary as it attracts many honey bees.


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