Dulcamara. Woody Nightshade. Botannical name: Solanum Dulcamara. Of the family N.O Solanaceae.

Commonly known as Bittersweet, Dulcamara, Felonwood, Felonwort, Scarlet Berry. Violet Bloom. These names are beautifully descriptive of the plant:

Dulcamara (Woody Nightshade)
Dulcamara (Woody Nightshade)

Solanum Dulcamara (Woody Nightshade): Specimens of this plant found during a summer’s day walk on the beach at Chichester on 7th August 2016, (see photographs).

A member of the Solanaceae family which includes some of the most poisonous of our native (UK) plants including Henbane and the Nightshades. The Solanaceae family also include Potato, Capsicum, Tomato, Aubergine, and Tobacco and the medicinally useful Thornapple (Datura Stramonium), the Winter Cherry and the Mandrake (Mandragora Officinarum). The prevailing property of the plants belonging to the Nightshade family is narcotic, rendering them in consequence, highly poisonous.

A brief aside about Mandragora. The Mandrake was known from ancient times, in ancient Egypt and by the ancient Greeks who named it Mandragora, signifying that it is injurious to cattle; and it is said to be ‘the insane root’ spoken of by Macbeth, and referred to in Shakespeare’s play ‘Othello’ by Iago as he creates jealousy and suspicion in Othello’s mind, of his wife, Desdemona. Known famously as the handkerchief scene of Act 3, scene 3:

Iago: ‘The Moor already changes with my poison: Dangerous conceits are, in their nature’s, poisons. Which at the first are scarce found to distaste, But with a little act upon the blood. Burn like the mines of Sulphur. I did say so. Look, where he comes!’ (Re-enter Othello) Iago: ‘Not poppy, nor mandragora, Nor all the drowsy syrups of the world, Shall ever medicine thee to that sweet sleep, Which thou owedst yesterday’…

For the Homoeopath, Mandragora is like a cooled or attenuated Belladonna. The symptoms, in the Homoeopathic proving are similar to those of Belladonna to which the plant is botanically closely related. Mandragora has restless excitability and bodily weariness. Great desire for sleep. Bodily weariness. Exaggeration of sound and enlarged vision. Pupils dilated. Eyes red, inflamed, tired, heavy. Eyelids painful, swollen, worse on the left side. Stinging, smarting pains in the eyelids, which are red, swollen, itching. Eye movements are painful, worse when reading. Neuralgia of the eye with spots before the eyes, dazzled and troubled vision. A peculiarly enlarged and confused vision. Photophobia. Mind symptoms: Euphoria alternating quickly with depression. Historically, Depressive psychosis. Restless excitability and hysteria. Very nervous and irritable. Hyper-sensitive to noise and to light. Happy state alternating with depression, sadness and discontent. Poor powers of concentration. Striking tiredness, exhaustion, collapse. Congestive headache. Worse first movement. Worse 3-5am, worse any changes in weather and worse from touch.

There are specific physical symptoms including Limb symptoms: ‘needle-like pains in the upper part of the right arm, spreading to the hand with feeling of numbness. Cramps in the hands, causing difficulty in writing. Numbness and coldness in the arms. Heaviness and numbness of the left arm. Muscular pains in the hips, thighs, legs. Legs are heavy and cold.  Walking is painful.’ Of the Head symptoms: Head feels numb. Heaviness and confusion of the head. Sense of fullness in vessels of the brain. Headache resulting fro an empty stomach, ameliorated by eating. Morning headache following bad digestion, accompanied by bad mood. Pulsating headache, as if in a fog. Sensation that the skull seems enlarged. Heart symptoms: Heaviness on the heart with paresis in left shoulder and arm. Cardiac pains aggravated in the morning, before a storm, by exertion or movement, ameliorated in bed, by rest and in the fresh air. Although the remedy picture is generally worse in the cold air, the congestive headache of Mandragora is better for fresh, cold air, cold weather. Sleep symptoms: There is a strong desire for sleep. Despite good sleep, feels tired, overwhelmingly drowsy. Sleep disturbed by horrible and unpleasant dreams, by muscular pains. Insomnia between 3-5am.

Mandragora is known in Homoeopathy, through the experiments of Dufresne by smelling at repeated short intervals , the expressed juice of the plant, ‘which has a nauseating odour like adder’s flesh’.

It is notable that there are close similarities with Belladonna in the mental, emotional spheres and in the physical sphere also. There are notable delusional states, in the very acute ranges of both medicines. It is important to remember that nature ably provides the cure for the ailments of mankind. Meeting with a patient who demonstrates these symptoms and overall state might recall the practitioner to think of Belladonna or Stramonium. Mandragora known by the ancients may also have its role.

The genus Solanum is represented in this country by two species, Solanum Nigrum (Black or Garden Nightshade) and Solanum Dulcamara (Bittersweet or Woody Nightshade). The leaves bear a certain resemblance to Belladonna, and the flowers of both Dulcamara and Belladonna are purple, though totally different in shape. The berries of Dulcamara are red and those of Belladona are black. Dulcamara is common throughout Europe and America. It is a hedgerow plant in England, where it is rendered conspicuous in the summer by its bright purple flowers, and in the autumn by its brilliant red berries:

Dulcamara (Woody Nightshade)
Dulcamara (Woody Nightshade)
Dulcamara (Woody Nightshade)
Dulcamara (Woody Nightshade)

Belladonna for which it is often mistaken, is rare.

Dulcamara is a perennial, shrubby plant, quite woody at the base, which throws out long, straggling, slender branches, which trail over the hedges and bushes among which it grows, reaching many feet in length, when supported by other plants. The shoots are initially green and hairy, becoming woody and smooth as they grow older, with an ashy-green bark. The flowers which are open all the summer, are in loose, drooping clusters, on short stalks opposite the leaves.

The flowers are of a bluish, purple tint, with reflexed petals when expanded, so as to appear drooping. Their bright yellow stamens project in a conical form around the pistil, or seed-bearing portion of the flower.

The leaves are chiefly auriculate on the upper stems, ie. ‘with little ears’, having at their base from one to two (rarely three) wing-like segments, but are heart-shaped below. The leaves are placed alternately on either side of the stem and are arranged so that they face the light. The flower clusters always face a different direction to the leaves. ‘One may gather a hundred pieces of the Woody Nightshade, and this strange perversity is rampant in all’ remarks an observer of this curious habit.

The berries are green at first, afterwards becoming orange and finally bright red and are produced in constant succession throughout the summer and early autumn, many remaining on the plant long after the leaves have fallen.

The plant was called Woody Nightshade by the old herbalists to distinguish it from the Deadly Nightshade. It has the generic name Solanum, derived from ‘Solor’ meaning, ‘I ease’ testifying to the medicinal use of the plant. The second name, Dulcamara, used to be more correctly written in the Middle Ages, ‘Amaradulcis’ literally, ‘Bittersweet’, the common country name of the plant, given to it in reference to the fact that the root and stem, if chewed, taste first bitter and then sweet. Another old name is Felonwood or Felonwort, the plant for felons, felon being an old name for whitlow: ‘ The Berries of Bitterwseet stamped withrusty Bacon, applied to the Joynts of the Finger that is troubled with Felon hath been found by divers country people who are most subject thereto to be very successful for the curing of the same’. Reference text: ‘A Modern Herbal’ by Mrs M. Grieve.

Dulcamara (Woody Nightshade)
Dulcamara (Woody Nightshade)

The noted Herbalist Gerard says of it: ‘The juice is good for those who have fallen from high places, and have been thereby bruised or beaten, for it is thought to dissolve blood congealed or cluttered anywhere in the intrals and to heale the hurt places’. Here we see a similarity with Belladonna in Homoeopathic useage.

The dried young branches from indigenous plants, taken when they have shed their leaves, were the parts directed for use, up to 1907, by the British Pharmacopoeia, but has been removed from the last two editions.

The shoots, preferably the extreme branches, are collected from two – three year old branches, after the leaves have fallen I the autumn, cut into pieces about 0.5 inches long, with a chaff cutter, and then carefully dried by artificial heat. They require no other preparation. The peculiar unpleasant odour of the shoots is lost on drying.

Constituents: Dulcamara or Bittersweet contains the alkaloid Solanine and the amorphous glucoside Dulcamarine, to which the characteristic bittersweet taste is due. Sugars, gum, starch and resin are also present. The active properties of Dulcamara are most developed when it grows in a dry and exposed situation. The bitterness is more pronounced in the spring than in the autumn.

Solanine acts narcotically; in large doses it paralyses the CNS without affecting the peripheral nerves or voluntary muscles. It slows the heart and respiration, lessens sensibility, lowers temperature and causes vertigo and delirium,, terminating in death with convulsions. The berries have proved poisonous to a certain degree in children.

The Herbal medicine possesses feeble narcotic properties, with the power of increasing the secretions, particularly those of the skin and kidneys. It has no action on the pupil of the eye.

Historically, the plant Dulcamara was used in herbal medicine to treat skin diseases, being a popular remedy for obstinate skin eruptions, scrofula and ulcers. Traditionally it has been used in chronic bronchial catarrh, asthma and whooping cough. It was much employed in the past for the treatment of chronic rheumatism and for jaundice.

In Homoeopathy the Dulcamara tincture was prepared from the stems of fresh green stems and leaves, gathered just before flowering.

History: Sensitivity to cold and damp runs through the Solanaceae and is marked in Belladonna and Capsicum, but is supremely marked in Dulcamara. This feature, among others, renders them all good antidotes to Mercurius. Baryta Carb is the complement of Dulcamara in ‘worse from cold weather, easpecially in scrofulous children’.

Homoeopathic: The leading indication for Dulcamara is found in its modality, worse from cold and damp. Any condition which has this feature may find its remedy in Dulcamara. Effects of lying on damp ground, ie., paralysis, conditions which are worse in the cold, damp weather or from changes from hot to cold weather. Every cold settles in the eyes, throat or affects the bladder, respiration or bowels. Hot days and dry nights towards the close of summer are especially favourable to the action of Dulcamara. Effects of damp weather, especially colds and diarrhoea after exposure to wet.

The rheumatic troubles induced by damp cold are aggravated by every cold change and somewhat relieved by moving about. Results from sitting on cold, damp ground. Icy coldness. One sided spasms with speechlessness. Paralysis of single parts. Congestive headache with neuraligia and dry nose. Patients living and working in damp, cold basements (cf. Natrum Sulph). Adenitis, glands swollen and indurated. Stiffness, numbness, aching and soreness of muscles on every exposure to cold, especially of the back and loins.

Causations: Damp with cold. Wading. Washing. Injuries. Suppressed eruptions. Suppressed perspiration. Complaints of workers in the ice factory. People who are constantly exposed to constant changes of temperature, air conditioning.

Modalities:  Better moving about, external warmth, dry weather. Worse from being chilled, while hot; sudden changes in temperature, cold, damp, rainy weather. Worse from cold drinks, ice-cream. Worse from damp ground, cellars, cold to feet. Worse getting wet, using water. Worse from suppressed discharges, eruptions, sweat etc., Worse from autumn, night, hot days and cold nights. Worse at rest, better by motion.

Mind: Mental confusion, cannot find the right words, cannot concentrate his thoughts. Depression. Scolds without being angry. Rejects the thing asked for. Easily becomes delirious with pain. Difficult speech.

Abdomen: Colic from cold. Bowels cold. Acts on umbilical region. Cutting pain at navel, followed by painful, green, slimy stools. Swelling of inguinal glands (cf. Merc). Eruptions or pain about the navel.

Back: Lumbar region and sacrum feel cold and stiff. Stiff neck. Pains in the small of the back, as after long stooping. Stiffness and lameness across neck and shoulders, after getting cold and wet.

Breasts: engorged and sore, delicate, sensitive to cold.

Chest: pain in left chest, as if lung moved in waves. Great oppression of the chest, especially when breathing. Dull shooting, as from blows in and upon the sides of the chest.

Ears: Earache with nausea, whole night, preventing sleep. Swelling of the parotid glands after measles. Buzzing in the ears. Earache, buzzing in ears, stitches and swelling of parotid glands (cf. Merc, Dulc, Kali Mur).

Eyes: every time he takes a cold, it settles in the eyes (cf. Puls)., Thick, yellow discharge, granular lids. Hayfever with profuse, watery discharge, worse in open air. Aching eyes on reading. Ophthalmia from catching cold. Paralysis of upper lid. Twitching of eyelids in cold air.

Face: Cold sores on lips. Warts and eruptions on face. Facial neuralgia, worse from slightest exposure to cold. Tearing in cheek extending to ear, orbit and jaw. Preceded by coldness of parts and concomitant with canine hunger. Twitching of lips in cold air. Humid eruption on cheeks and face generally. Thick, brown crusts on face.

Female: Suppression of menses from coldness or dampness. Dysmenorrhoea with blotches all over. Herpes on breat in nursing women. Menses, milk, lochia suppressed by cold. Breasts engorged, hard, sore with absent menses or leucorrhoea. Eruptions on skin after weaning.

Food: Aversion to food. Great thirst for cold drinks.

Head: Ringworm of scalp. Scald head, thick, brown crusts, bleeding when scratched, causing hair to fall out. Headache relieved by conversation. Buzzing in head. Sensation as if a board were pressing against forehead. Sensation as if hair stood on end. Occiput feels large, cold. Occipital pain ascending from nape of neck. Back part of head chilled, heavy, aching during cold weather.

Kidneys: Nephritis from cold. Catarrh of the bladder from taking cold. Bladder wall thickened. Must urinate when getting chilled. Frequent urination. Cystitis. Strangury, painful urination. Retention of urine from cold, or cold drinks. Involuntary urination from paralysis of bladder. Urine cloudy, slimy, foul. Urine has a thick, mucous, purulent sediment. Ischuria from wading with bare feet in cold water.

Limbs: Exostosis on arms after suppressed scabies. Perspiration on palms of hands. Trembling of arm, (right), with urinary difficulties. Warts on hands and fingers. Rheumatic symptoms alternating with diarrhea or acute eruptions. Paralysed limbs, feet icy cold. Swelling of calf of leg. Pain in shin bones. Rheumatism alternates with diarrhoea.

Lungs: Asthma with dyspnea. Impending paralysis of lungs. Cough worse cold, wet weather with free expectoration, tickling in larynx. Winter coughs, dry teasing cough. Cough after physical exertion. Cough hoarse, spasmodic. Whooping cough with excessive secretion of mucous. Loose, rattling cough, worse wet weather. Must cough a long time to expel the phlegm. Cough cause by tickling in the back of the throat in prolonged fits with much loose, easy expectoration.

Male: Enlarge testes with griping pain. Impotence. Herpes.

Mouth: Cold sores on lips. Distorted, drawn to one side. Tongue swollen, hindering speech, paralysed inarticulate or difficult speech. Dry, rough tongue, rough scraping in throat after taking cold in damp weather. Saliva tenacious, ropy; with toothache.

Nose: Complete stoppage of the nose. Dry, or profuse coryza. Stuffs up in cold rain. Aching pain. Summer colds with diarrhoea. Least cold air stops the nose. Wants nose kept warm, least cold air stops the nose. Nosebleed in place of menses. Thick, yellow mucous, bloody crusts. Coryza of newborn.

Rectum: Bowels feel cold. Cutting pain in navel followed by painful, green, slimy stools. Diarrhoea. Green, watery, slimy, bloody mucous, especially in summer when the weather suddenly becomes cold from damp, cold weather and repelled eruptions. Sour, watery stools, worse at night, summer, damp, cold weather.

Sensations: As if a board were pressed to the forehead, as if the head were enlarged, as if hair stood on end, as if fire were darting out of the eyes, as if worms were crawling up and down in abdomen, biting rectum as from salt, as if lung moved in waves, as if arms were of wood, as of needles over the whole body. Crawling, tickling, itching of various parts, tip of tongue.

Skin: Ezcema of infants. Rash in newborn. Ringworm in the hair of children. Pruritis, worse cold, wet weather. Herpes Zoster, pemphigus. Swelling and indurated glands from cold. Eruptions, scaly, thick, crusty, moist, bleeding or herpetic, worse before menses. Sensitive bleeding ulcers. Little boils. Urticaria, red spots, brought on by exposure, sour stomach. Humid eruptions on face, genitals, hands, etc., Warts large, smooth, on face, on palms of hands. Anasarca. Thick brown yellow crusts, bleeding when scratched. Small faruncles on places hurt.

Stomach: Nausea with desire for stool. Shivering with vomiting. Belchings with shuddering. Vomiting of white, tenacious mucous. Heartburn. Chilliness during vomiting.

Temperature: Dry, burning heat all over. Icy coldness with pains. Coldness in different parts, icy coldness of paralysed parts. Chill starts in back, not better by warmth, worse evening. Chill with urging in stool and urination. Chilliness with thirst. Foul sweat.

Throat: As if the uvula were too long. Tonsillitis from every cold change.

Materia Medica Sources: Boericke. Clarke. Phatak. Murphy.