Monday, May 28, 2012


(This post is not for the prudish)

There are three members of the nightshade family growing in my garden, the potato, tomato, and bittersweet nightshade, the Belladonna. Two years ago, I grew about 200 lbs of at least five species of potato. Last year, a combination of weird weather and my treating my veggies like wild plants, led to a push harvest, only as many potatoes coming from the ground as I put in. Two years ago, I harvested as many tomatoes from ten plants, as I did last year with a hundred. If the harvest goes well this year, I expect to harvest about 300-400 lbs of nine species of potato, with two-three times the harvest of tomatoes as I've had the last two years. I will also be experimenting with the belladonna.

If people have a reaction to the word nightshade or belladonna anymore, they probably think – poison. It's true, if you were to ingest the greens of any of the above mentioned plants, you would be very sick, and you might even die. The seeds of the potato and the belladonna are not for ingesting either. The plants, particularly the belladonna, are effective killers. It is said, Duncan I, one of the earliest kings of Scotland, killed an entire army of invading Danes, feeding them, or getting them to drink something, probably mead, with belladonna in it. The use of belladonna is often associated too, with witches, millions of women who died at the hand of the Church and their crazed village believers. In Colombia, an extract of a nightshade, the borrachero, a tree that grows wild all over the cities there – children play with the seeds, which if ingested would kill them – is used as a date rape drug, or a means of thievery. It makes the victim docile and exceptionally compliant. “Why did you let them take all my stuff out of the hotel,” said the distraught visiting American businessman, to the concierge. “Because you told me to.” There are less humorous examples.

The primary active ingredient in the nightshades, is scopolamine. In Ecuador, by contrast to modern Colombian malfeasance, the borrachero has a long history of medicinal and shamanic use, continuing today. Scopolamine is an active ingredient in some pharmaceutical sleeping pills. In Europe, the bittersweet nightshade, along with the mandrake and the henbane, were used medicinally, and psychotropicly, often associated with the sensation of flight. Hence, the association with witches flying – grease the shaft with a salve of belladonna, and ride the broomstick. Sexually aggressive, earth conscious, independent women, living in a culture inclined to grotesque violence, blinded by the spectre of original sin, and the mythology of the terrestrial dominion of Satan.

Reading about it last night in a thunderstorm, I went outside in the rain, spoke to the belladonna where it grows in a prominent spot next to the pond, clipped a leaf, went inside, crushed the leaf in my hand, and jerked off with it, with the help of some canola oil. Curiously, I wasn't imaging a woman at all, but the plant. After, I fed my seed to the plant. The consequent high was not like flying, but it was a 2-3 hour, very subtle, pleasant body high, not dissimilar to ingesting cannabis.

What that did, was remove the fear I had about the plant, that it is poisonous to me in a way that is hostile to my very being. It gave me the freedom to experiment with it more, gradually, eventually making some kind of ointment with the plant's seed. Not with the intent of getting high, but to learn what the plant has to teach.

We have entered a period of existential uncertainty, when even the continued existence of a species called Homo sapien sapien is in self-imposed peril. That has largely to do with our ignorance of nature, our refusal to accept our dependence upon the earth, and a long history of the attempted domination of it. That has hideous implications, and humans are going to need all the help they can get, to survive industrial collapse with any kind of dignity.

I recommend elaborating on our relationship with the nightshade family of the plant kingdom. The potato is a monumental gift to humanity, thousands of different species, growing in all kinds of ecosystems. The tomato gives a zest to life that few plants can match. The Belladonna? Well, there's a dark aspect to everything, isn't there. Plant consciousness isn't human, and any human communicating with and attempting to learn from plants should be wary. People have done and do all kinds of cruel and malicious things with scopolamine. Is that the plant's fault, or is it because we know what the extract is capable of, without having ourselves established a relationship with the plant first, human to plant, plant to human? Who knows what the karmic debt for such a thing could be? All I know is, what I experienced with the belladonna wasn't evil, it was more like a loving embrace. And no doubt, going deeper, I will find something terrible. That may very well be something in the plant, which I can only trust myself not to succumb to, or it could be something inside myself, that the plant is forcing me to look at, in which case I hope I will have the courage to do something about it. I'm guessing though, there is healing there, and I go to find it.

Bella donna. Beautiful woman. I take that to mean, a feminine-like consciousness residing in the plant, that is beautiful. My hope for the next 5,126 years, is a balancing of the feminine and masculine, in the rehabilitation of the biosphere. If there is anything to learn from the belladonna, in balancing those aspects in me, I will report faithfully. Because increasingly, I feel like I am engaged in a great spiritual war, over the fate of the soul of our species. And I will engage any ally in that effort I can, and count among my greatest allies thus far, members of the nightshade family of the plant kingdom. 

NOTE: With more research, I have learned, or I believe relearned, that the plant I said in this post was Belladonna, is not the true belladonna. I WAS WRONG. The plant is in fact, bittersweet nightshade, NOT deadly nightshade. Thus, what I recommended here CANNOT be suggested as useful advice with the true deadly nightshade, Atropa belladonna, as I have NO experience with the true plant. I am an ASS, that I did not confirm the plants true identity before I wrote this post. Though, I would run the experiment again, with the true belladonna, should I have that opportunity. Or one similar, anyway. The core idea behind this post still stands.  


John D. Wheeler said...

I admire your courage in being willing to try things out for yourself. There are a lot of plants which are lethal when ingested but have lesser effects when applied topically. If you really want to know the effects of plants, you might want to try studying homeopathy.

On a lighter note, a topical application of Urtica dioica is supposed to be a very effective treatment for erectile dysfunction. Perhaps you could even use ammonia or baking soda to calm the stinging sensation the the nettle causes.

William Hunter Duncan said...


LOL. I love it, that you with your white shirt and black tie, and your tax preparer background and your sort of quasi-Christian aire, are the only who has commented on this post. Are you just sayin' that about nettles, mischievously? There's another fix for erectile dysfunction - dispense with the economic dogma and figure out how to drop out of the race.

Lance Michael Foster said...

I just followed your link from JMG's archdruid report. Nightshade grows around here too. I think it is interesting how you have established a relationship with belladonna. Somehow it has attracted your attention, and courageously you have taken a first step to learn what it can teach you. I pay attention to any plant that seems to jump up and say "notice me." Once, over a decade ago, seemingly overnight, a bunch of weird plants I had never seen before grew in the backyard. I went to look at them, with their ornate leaves and pale flowers, reminding me of Lily Munster, witchy, vampiric, deathly, dangerous, but friendly and polite in some way. These were some kind of witch plants I instinctively knew. After some time looking through plant keys (this was before the internet) I learned their name: henbane. BTW, the Forest Witch blog deals a lot with plants and salves.

William Hunter Duncan said...

Thanks for the links in the other comment, and welcome to my site. I'm glad you found it interesting enough to comment. I'll check in on the links. Don't know that I even know what henbane looks like. Neat.