Solanum: The Poison Plants of Witchcraft
Once a long long time ago when humans could commune with plants, the spirits of the dead, and the gods the people learned of the Solanaceae genus of plants – of both their great powers and their dangers. But those who knew of the secrets of these plants were greatly feared and cast out of society as the Solanaceae could bring entire kingdoms to their knees. And it did, many times, when those who knew their secrets used them against enemy kingdoms and armies as the first chemical warfare. Those who are most famous for their knowledge of the Solanaceae may sound familiar: Circe, Medea, Hecate – great sorceresses and a great queen each known for their skill with poisonous plants. The Solanaceae are Atropa Belladonna, Datura, Henbane, Mandrake, Nightshades, but also the more familiar sweet and hot peppers, potatoes, tobaccos, and tomatoes.
If these sound familiar it is because the former can all be found in ancient and modern flying ointment recipes and the latter can usually be found on dinner plates around the world. Plants are neither good nor evil in their nature. It is humankind that sets a plant toward a good purpose for healing, or a bad one for killing or cursing. Belladonna, Datura, Henbane, Mandrake, and Nightshades were all commonly found in medicines of ancient times. They were respected for their dangerous powers, but in regularly using them the people of the times found them to also be the most potent of medicines. Only in the last century have extracts of these plants been used in modern medicine. For example atropine, which is derived from Belladonna, Datura, and Mandrake, is listed as a “core medicine” on the World Health Organization’s “Essential Drugs List” as it is used for heart, lung, nervous system problems as well as resuscitation after heart failure, and it is also an antidote for different types of poisoning. All of the plants in the Solanaceae family should never be taken internally due to the compound tropane found within them. The body can build up a resistance to tropane, but the heart cannot and even just one instance of ingestion can cause permanent heart damage and multiple ingestions can result in death.
The art of poisoning being associated with witchcraft is found in the Greek word pharmakos which originally was used for a sacrificial scapegoat to take on the bad luck and sins of a community, but was afterward transfered as a title of herbal remedies, spell-potions, poisons, and eventually sorcerers, herbalists, and poisoners themselves. Pharmakos of course being the root of the modern words pharmacology and pharmaceutical. The great goddess Diana, who was originally known to the Greeks as Artemis, apprenticed her daughter Aradia (Herodias) in the arts of poisoning as part of her training in witchcraft and then instructed her to teach it to peasants that they may free themselves from slavery and oppression with poison as the slaves did during the Haitian Revolution to win the land they were being forced to work for themselves.
Diana to Aradia from Aradia or the Gospel of the Witches of Italy:
“And thou shalt be the first of witches known;
And thou shalt be the first of all i’ the world;
An thou shalt teach the art of poisoning,
Of poisoning those who are great lords of all;
Yea, thou shalt make them die in their palaces;
And thou shalt bind the oppressor’s soul with witchcraft;
And when ye find a peasant who is rich,
Then ye shall teach the witch, your pupil, how
To ruin all his crops with tempests dire,
With lightning and terrible thunder,
And with the hail and wind…“
Other Names: Belladonna, Deadly Nightshade, Dwale, Death’s Herb, Sorcerery’s Berry
Ruling Deities & Spirits: Atropos, Dionysus, Hecate, The Moirae, The Valkyries, Freyja, Odin
This plant is named after Atropos one of the three Fates whose name means “inevitable” as she was the one who cut the thread of life causing death for all humans. Some believe the name of this plant is a play on words of a Greco-Roman phrase meaning “do not betray a beautiful woman”, but I believe it simple means “beautiful lady of death” referring to the goddesses who rule this plant. Belladonna is a traditional plant of transvection having been used in shamanism well before its same use in witchcraft to open the doorway between worlds and to leave the body hence its use in traditional flying ointments.
Other Names: Solanum dulcamara, Bittersweet, Felonwort, Garden Nightshade, Scarlet Berry, Snakeberry, Staff Vine, Woody Nightshade
Ruling Deities: Hermes, Hecate
This nightshade is found all over Europe, Asia, and also North America and is most common in forests, hedges, and marshes. It is noticeable by its brilliant purple flowers and its vines which closely resemble that of a potato plant. It has bright red berries and the whole plant is toxic and no part of it is a hallucinogen. It is used externally as a medicine to heal bruises, swelling, sprains, corns, and sores – especially when combined with chamomile. Not to be burned as an incense or ingested, but it can be used as a ritual ointment or offering for the listed deities. The berries also make a good offering for the spirits of the dead.
Other Names: Two varieties – Solanum nigrum (European) and Solanum americanum (North America)
Ruling Deities: Hecate, Isis, Saturn, Hades
Found wild in the woods, desolate spots, hedges, and wastelands, this nightshade is also poisonous, but the well-ripened berries are okay in very small amounts. Black Nightshades are not hallucinogenic. When boiled the berries become safe to eat and black nightshade can be found as a food plant in India and Ethiopia. A clever witch could make a jam or liqueur of the well-ripened berries along with sloe plums from the blackthorn tree for an offering to be used for communion with the underworld spirits and gods. This berry is also found in ancient Kyphi incense recipes as well as salves and incenses for Hecate, but make sure to only use the ripened berries when using for incense as the leaves and roots emit toxic fumes when burned.
Other Names: Angel’s Trumpet, Devil’s Apple, Devil’s Trumpet, Jimsonweed, Sorcerer’s Herb, Stramonium, Thorn-apple
Ruling Deities: Hades, Hecate, Saturn
This large plant is found mostly in North and South America, but smaller varieties can be found in other parts of the world, including Europe. Datura is dangerous even to touch so be very careful when even handling this plant whether live or dried. It has many healing properties but is rarely used due to its toxicity and its habit of causing severe unpredictable hallucinations that can last hours or days with the person who ate or smoked it usually having to be tied up to prevent them from hurting themselves or others. In South America the seeds of the Tree Datura were once powdered and mixed with pig’s fat to form an ointment used for healing and also by shamans for their out of body travels to the spirit world – however even then it was usually only used in times of great need such as for a soul retrieval or to reverse a great curse caused by the ancestors. In folk magic it is used much more safely to break hexes and reverse curses back to the sender.
Other Names: Hyosycamus niger, Black Nightshade, Devil’s Eye, Henbells, Jupiter’s Bean, Poison Tobacco, Stinking Nightshade
Ruling Deities: Apollo, Belenos, Hades, Hecate, Jupiter, Thor, Zeus
The Henbane plant is found in the Northern U.S.A. and throughout Canada as well as Europe. In European folk magic it was used by men to attract love and/or a wife and it was also burned outside to cause rain. In ancient Greek medicine it was used as a sedative and in Greek folk magic Henbane was used for divination and it can also be found in incense recipes for raising shades up from the underworld. It was also used as an aphrodisiac and in love potions to force someone into love. Henbane was commonly found as an ingredient in beers and wines up until the Middle Ages as well. However, this plant is also highly toxic and hallucinogenic and like the other Solanaceae is better only used externally. For witchcraft it can be added in proper dosages to flying ointments or in an aphrodisiac massage oil.
Other Names: Alraun, Brain Thief, Circeum, Circoea, Djinn’s Eggs, Golden Apples of Aphrodite, Mandragora, Mandragor, Mannikin, Sorcerer’s Root, Witches’ Mannikin, Womandrake,
Ruling Deities & Spirits: Aphrodite, Circe, Hathor, Hecate, Medea, Prometheus
In ancient Greece Mandrake was once powdered and added to wines as well as various love-philtres. It was well known for making humans act like beasts and is believed to be one of the plants responsible for the legends of werewolves and shapeshifters. Mandrake is hallucinogenic, and although it contains less tropane than its relatives, it should only be ingested rarely in one’s life. As a hallucinogen it is best ingested as a tea or infused in wine, but it is much more common to find Mandrake being used in flying ointments such as the magic salve of Medea which she learned to make using Mandrake roots from the Titan Prometheus. Medea made this salve for the hero Jason so he could infiltrate Hecate’s garden and steal the golden fleece. If you should choose to ingest or apply a tincture or salve of Mandrake externally be sure to be careful of your dosage first so you do not turn into a raving lunatic! Mandrake has been used for millennia in folk magic for fertility and love magics. When ingested it actually decreases libido, so the root is used sympathetically for these purposes. Mandrake roots also have a long history of being used as mannikins or alrauns – carved dolls used for luck, healing, and prophecy. These Mandrake dolls were usually kept wrapped in cloth or stored in a small coffin-like box and hidden from the view of anyone but the owner. They were considered a great responsibility to own and had to be fed in order to remain potent. Such mannikins were passed down through families for generations before they were outlawed by the Church in Europe.
- Miller, Richard Allan. The Magical and Ritual Use of Aphrodisiacs. Destiny Books, 1993.*
- Miller, Richard Allan. The Magical and Ritual Use of Herbs. Destiny Books, 1993.*
- Müller-Ebeling, Rätsch, & Storl. Witchcraft Medicine: Healing Arts, Shamanic Practices, and Forbidden Plants. Inner Traditions, 2003.
- Pendell, Dale. Pharmako Series. North Atlantic Books, 2009.
- Schultes, Hofman, & Rätsch. Plants of the Gods: Their Sacred, Healing, and Hallucinogenic Powers. Healing Arts Press, 2001.
- Thompson, C.J.S. The Mystic Mandrake. University Books, 1968.
* The first two books are the only ones I’ve seen with instructions for use given – innocuous as the covers seem, Miller really did his research both chemically and ritually.