With a name that translates to “beautiful lady” in Italian, the belladonna is certainly the femme fatale of flowers. Its deep purple bell-shaped flowers and black berries are incredibly poisonous, earning belladonna its more common moniker, deadly nightshade.
This plant has boomed in popularity as a tattoo design in recent decades, containing powerful meanings that range from painful loss to a symbol of deep betrayal. In the Middle Ages, it was widely considered symbolic of witchcraft and even the Devil.
It is no surprise that such a notorious flower is rich with symbolism. In this article, we will explore the various meanings of belladonna tattoos, as well as history, characteristics, designs, and placement.
What is the History of Belladonna Tattoos?
The name “belladonna” is directly derived from the scientific name of deadly nightshade: atropa belladonna. It is part of the Solanaceae (aka nightshade) family, which includes many familiar plants such as eggplant, peppers and even tomatoes. But despite its direct relationship to these common garden staples, belladonna is far from edible.
This infamous plant is known by several names, including:
- Atropa belladonna
- Cursed primrose
- Deadly nightshade
- Death cherries
- Devil’s berries
- Murderer’s berries
- Sorcerer’s berries
The first uses of belladonna are believed to be as a poison, as paleolithic tribes would tip their arrows with the poison from this plant’s shiny black berries.
In Shakespeare’s famous Romeo ; Juliet, Juliet ingests deadly nightshade to feign death, and is also the rumored method with which Macbeth of Scotland poisoned invading English troops. Roman emperors Claudius and Augustus are believed to have been assassinated by belladonna poisoning.
Aside from its sordid uses, belladonna was historically used in cosmetics – most notably to dilate the pupils and bring blush to the cheeks amongst Italian noblewomen during the Middle Ages – and as homeopathic medicine to treat pain relief and menstrual problems. It also has psychedelic properties, leading to its surreptitious use as a recreational drug.
While current uses of belladonna are limited due to the plant’s toxicity, it is still used in pharmaceutical medicines to treat ailments such as irritable bowel syndrome, pink eye, heart arrhythmia, and more.
What Do Belladonna Tattoos Symbolize?
With belladonna’s long, colorful, and often gruesome history, the plant has come to symbolize:
- witchcraft or paganism
- the devil
- a contemplation between good and evil
- falsehood or deceit
- warning / caution
- dangerous beauty, or femme fatale
This plant’s scientific name atropa belladonna is symbolic in itself. The genus name atropa comes from Atropos in Greek mythology, who was one of the Three Fates. Atropos and her sisters, Clothos and Lachesis, controlled the fates of every human being.
Atropos was the Fate known for deciding how and when each person would die and was responsible for severing the thread of life – effectively ushering the soul of the unfortunate mortal into the Underworld.
Because of this association with Greek mythology, it comes as no surprise that belladonna is widely considered a symbol of death. If you lived in Victorian England and received a gift of belladonna flowers, it was considered a warning or a threat.
In art and poetry, belladonna was associated with deceit, danger, and betrayal.
During medieval Europe, deadly nightshade was believed to be property of the Devil, and that anyone who consumed the shiny black berries would be punished for their sins with an agonizing death. Some believed that witches would use the plant in a brew with which they anointed their broomsticks and gave them the ability to fly.
Because of its poisonous nature, including belladonna in your tattoo can lend a dangerous or edgy vibe.
What Do Belladonna Tattoos Mean?
The meaning of belladonna tattoos can change depending upon the color. While natural belladonna has deep purple blossoms and shiny black berries, this isn’t always the case in belladonna tattoos.
- Red belladonna – unrequited love and passion. In China, red belladonna is a symbol of bad luck.
- Purple belladonna – the natural color of belladonna blooms, purple belladonna symbolizes pride, betrayal, death, loss, witchcraft, and danger – but can also symbolize nobility and spirituality.
- Orange belladonna – good luck, fortune, and happiness.
- Pink belladonna – friendship and love.
- Yellow belladonna – luck and companionship.
Belladonna tattoos usually have profound meaning behind them. They are popular for their meaning of dangerous beauty, or their historical connection to witchcraft and paganism. They are also a beautiful botanical and are a wonderful way to combine a love of nature’s dark side with folk art and mythology.
On a darker note, someone may opt for a belladonna tattoo as a reminder of a past betrayal and commitment to never forget.
Characteristics and Styles of Belladonna Tattoos
While belladonna tattoos can be done in a wide range of styles, including watercolor, geometric, realistic, they almost always include both the blossoms and the berries. This is to aid in identification, as deadly nightshade is well known for both its bell-shaped flowers and its dark berries. Otherwise, your tattoo may be mistaken for a different plant altogether.
Because belladonna has many distinguishing features, such as leaf shape, long, slender stems, flower shape/color, and berry shape/color, tattoos featuring this infamous botanical are realistic. Black and white is a popular palette for belladonna tattoos and enhances the duality between light and darkness / good and evil.
Common Belladonna Tattoo Pairings and Their Meanings
Belladonna + howling wolf: an homage to night and medieval European folklore
Belladonna + witch (can be pentagram, witch’s broom, witch’s cove, cauldron, or other widely known witch symbol): enhances the symbolism of witchcraft and paganism.
Belladonna + crescent moon: pagan mythology and the mystery of night
Belladonna + Halloween symbol (jack o’lantern, black cat, etc.): shows your love of Halloween
Belladonna in a jar: references the historic use of this botanical as a poison, or as a nod to the famed Tim Burton film, The Nightmare Before Christmas, which features a labeled jar of belladonna. Mason jars are also a popular subject for tattoos.
Where Do Belladonna Tattoos Usually Go?
If you want to show off your belladonna tattoo, placing it in an area such as the arm, leg, chest, or back are the best option. These places are also great if you prefer a large tattoo.
If you opt for a small tattoo, the best placements are the fingers, wrists, feet, toes, and neck.