Bittersweet, Solanum Dulcamara L., other common names of which are, Woody Nightshade, Bittersweet-nightshade, and Scarlet Berry, is a poisonous plant containing solanin and dulcamarin, the latter of which gives the berries their peculiar taste, sweetish at first, but later bitter. Solanidin and solanein are also present. The berries and leaves are poison, but only mildly so, considerable quantities being required to produce the characteristic narcotic effects.

It is a straggling or climbing perennial, with peculiar, irregular, halberd-shaped leaves and cymose clusters of purple flowers shaped somewhat like those of the potato, with prominent yellow stamens. The berries are round or slightly oval, and of an attractive, bright red colour. The plant grows from the Atlantic to Ontario and southward, and is quite readily recognized by its peculiarly shaped leaves.

The Common Nightshade, Solanum nigrum L., also known as Black, Deadly, or Garden Nightshade, contains solanin and solanidin. The berries are used as food to some extent, but should be eaten with caution. They are probably more poisonous when not completely ripe. Some plants contain more poison than others, the amount varying with varying conditions of climate and soil. In cases of poisoning reported to have been caused both by berries and by leaves, the symptoms are staggering, loss of feeling, and cramps. In the rare instances where death occurred, it came as a result of paralysis of the lungs.

Fig. 36.   Bittersweet

Fig. 36. - Bittersweet - Solatium Dulcamara.

Fig. 37.   Common Nightshade

Fig. 37. - Common Nightshade - Solanum nigrum.

The plant grows across the continent in shaded places. It is a rather spreading annual with ovate, sinuately-lobed leaves. The flowers resemble those of Bittersweet but are white instead of purple. The berries are black.

The Three-flowered, Spreading or Prairie Nightshade, Solarium triflorum Nutt., has berries which have been proved poisonous in experiments with guinea pigs. It grows on plains in Ontario and the west, and is a low, spreading annual with acute, pinnately dissected leaves. The flowers, in clusters of one to three, are white; the berries, green or blackish.

The Black Henbane, Hyoscyamus niger L., other common names of which are, Foetid Nightshade, Insane Root, and Poison-tobacco, contains a very poisonous mixture of alkaloids', the chief of which are hyoscyamin and hyoscin. Pseudohyoscyamin is also present. The roots and seeds are more poisonous than the leaves. The taste is disagreeable and animals usually do not eat it. Many cases of children poisoned by the seed are on record. The effect of the drug is similar to that of atropin, but its action on the brain is more sedative and its stimulation of heart and respiratory centres is less pronounced. It is used in medicine.

The plant is found in Canada and the northern states extending as far west as Ontario. It is erect and one to three or four feet high. The leaves are ovate and sinuate toothed, the upper ones clasping the stem. The flowers are in one-sided leafy spikes. The bell-shaped or cup-shaped corolla is composed of five united, dull yellow petals with purple veins, and the seed capsule is globose-oblong. The whole plant is covered with a thick mat of clammy hairs, especially the leaves, branches and flowers.

Fig. 38.   Black Henbane

Fig. 38. - Black Henbane - Hyoscyamus niger.