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Atropa belladonna
  1. M K Davies,
  2. A Hollman

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Atropa belladonna is deadly nightshade, a very poisonous plant named by Linnaeus after one of the Fates, Atropus, who cut the thread of life. Atropine is obtained from its leaf and berries and was first isolated in 1831. In 1867 von Bezold showed that it blocked the cardiac effects of vagal stimulation. Sir James Mackenzie (1853-1925) showed that it would revert partial but not complete heart block. He studied its effect on heart rate in digitalised patients in atrial fibrillation and submitted a paper on this subject to Heart. It was rejected by the editor, Sir Thomas Lewis, and the infuriated Mackenzie replied, “You might as well put on the forefront of the journal `No articles will be accepted which are not in accordance with the (temporary) beliefs of the Editor'”. It was hardly used in cardiology until the introduction of coronary care units led to its use for the treatment of bradycardia and heart block after myocardial infarction.

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Atropa belladonna has appeared on a number of stamps from different countries over the years. The one chosen for illustration comes from Yugoslavia in 1965 and was part of a set of six stamps issued depicting medicinal plants. Peppermint and the rusty foxglove were the two highest values in the set.