Belladonna – otherwise known as deadly nightshade - has been used by herbalists and assassins for millennia. Called dwale in Old English, its name came from either the Scandinavian dool (to delay or to sleep) or the French dueil (grief). Deadly sums it up, although in small increments, it has very valuable uses (other than poisoning someone).
During the Parthian Wars, the troops of Marcus Antonius were likely poisoned by belladonna. During the reign of Duncan I of Scotland, MacBeth’s soldiers supposedly poisoned an invading Danish Army by mixing belladonna into liquor and giving the bottles to the Danes during a truce. The name Atropa Belladonna is derived from Bellona, a goddess of war, and Atropas, the Greek Fate who “held the shears to cut the thread of human life.” It was used as an anesthetic from the time of the Romans up through World War One. As late as the 1900’s, it was used by optometrists to dilate the eyes. According to Mrs. M. Grieve F.R.H.S. in A Modern Herbal, it was used when the physician needed something to make the patient salivate, lacrimate, urinate, defecate, have a gastro-intestinal movement (as an antispasmodic) and/or emesis (vomit). It was also used to slow the heartbeat in patients with cardiac palpitation. Its medicinal properties are attributed to the amount of atropine in the plants’ roots.
Atropine. salivation, lacrimation, urination, defecation, gastro-intestinal distress and emesis (vomiting); aka SLUDGE. If you have read the two previous articles about troops being exposed to nerve agents, you will recognize these words.
Atropine is an acetylcholinesterase inhibitor. It occurs naturally in plants like belladonna and daffodils. Chemically, it is used as weapons (nerve agents) and pesticides. Medically, it is used to treat myasthenia gravis and forms of dementia, such as Alzheimer's and Dementia with Lewy Bodies.
When you think of the battles you must wage throughout life, one of the most terrifying is that of dementia. Simple absent-mindedness spirals into complete
memory loss and the inability to perform the most basic independent maneuver. When it was first diagnosed in 1906, the sufferers ranged in age from 45 to 65. Now, victims are older, but the average life span has extended, too. However, once diagnosed, life expectancy is about seven years. A very small percentage of patients diagnosed with Alzheimer's survive past fourteen years.
In 2008, (about four years after the second study was released of the troops exposed to nerve agents at the Edgewood Arsenal stating, “There were only two statistically significant differences: volunteers in anticholinesterase agent tests reported fewer attention problems than those in other chemical tests and greater sleep disturbance than those in no chemical tests.”) the cholinesterase inhibitors (aka anticholinesterase agents) donepezil (brand name Aricept), galantamine (Razadyne), and rivastigmine (branded as Exelon and Exelon Patch) were approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) to treat the cognitive manifestations for the management of Alzheimer’s Dementia and Dementia with Lewy Bodies.
Maybe you cannot draw a straight line from the experiments performed on the troops at the Edgewood Arsenal to these three snippets of hope for sufferers of dementia and their care-givers. But there is a linear connection between plants such as belladonna and daffodils and their utilization by the step-brothers Military and Medicine. This alliance mutated into the development of pesticides and weapons of mass destruction. But it also evolved into pharmaceutical drugs which may improve the quality of life.
Remember the letter to the president of the United States written in 1855 by Chief Seattle of the Dewamish tribe, “What affects the Earth, will also affect the Earth’s children.”