Today's post is on a chemical called atropine. It has a rich pharmacological history, and just yesterday I recommended it to a writer as a treatment for pesticide poisoning. So here we go!
Atropine is a substance extracted from plants including Deadly Nightshade or Belladonna (Atropa Belladonna), Mandrake (Mandragora officinarum), and Jimsonweed (Datura stramonium). The name "atropine" derives from the the Greek fate Atropos, who cut the threads of fate. Atropa Bella Donna means "Do not betray a beautiful lady."
Remember Harry Potter's work with the deadly Mandrake plant? Those weird, ugly little baby-rooted things whose screams were deadly and whose juice was the antidote for the petrified victims of the Basilisk?
Well it turns out the Mandrake, or Mandragora is real.
(Image from Warner Bros, 2001)
The root structure is sometimes described as taking on a humanoid appearance, as in this botanical print. J. K. Rowling wasn't too far off the mark with her baby mandrakes!
The importance of mandrake and belladonna in human culture has been traced back to ancient Greece and in the Bible as well (Genesis). As early as 4th Century B.C., it was used as a sedative and before surgery. It was also thought to improve fertility.
These herbs have been used in pagan rituals, has been used in witchcraft texts from the 1800's, and still have an important usage in modern medicine today.
It was said that women in Renaissance Italy used Belladonna berries to dilate their pupils to make them look more alluring, hence the name "pretty lady" in translation.
Other effects of atropine include reducing secretion in salivary and sweat glands, increasing heart rate, and can treat the symptoms of poisoning by organophosphate compounds found in some pesticides and nerve gases like saran. These agents cause sweating, salivation, vomiting, diarrhea, and tearing.
Atropine is found on every "crash cart" in every hospital and ambulance today, as a treatment for a critically slow heart rate and asystole (flatline). Even today, these fascinating plants have left their mark.
In literature, these herbs are constantly popping up. Outside of Harry Potter, I remember these plants popping up in the Clan of the Cave Bear books, as well as Shakespeare, The Eragon series, John Steinbeck, and many, many other places...it's everywhere!
Please keep in mind this post is for writing purposes only and is not to be construed as medical advice!
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