Of course I managed to get lost once. To my embarrassment, when I finally found a house and knocked on the door, explaining that I was lost, it was soon revealed that it was the home of a classmate. It took years to live that down. I also fell into countless holes and was chased by what I thought was a rabid groundhog. Stupidly, I also sampled vegetation once or twice. I ate a leaf on a dare. And gorged myself from a mulberry tree.
Mulberries stain horribly. So when I arrived home, Mom took one look at my face and yelled for my father. "What have you been eating? What's all over your face? And don't you DARE say 'nothing' or 'I don't know'."
With my stock answers taken away and the paddle looming, I babbled out that I'd been eating mulberries from a tree up the road. She cut me off mid-explanation and launched into a fevered account of every child who'd ever been poisoned by eating berries, peppered with threats about making me vomit and taking me to the emergency room.
Dad's arrival was met by "guess what your daughter's done now" followed by "you go with her and see what she ate". Which we did. Dad confirmed that they were indeed mulberries, but I shouldn't have been eating them anyway. After all, they might have been sprayed with pesticide. And why on Earth would I think it was okay to eat something I'd found no matter what it was? Where was my brain?
"I dunno" I answered. When you're a kid, you don't think.
In 1948 five children in Portsmouth ended up in the hospital, with symptoms ranging from unquenchable thirst and dilated pupils to vomiting and hallucinations. All had been out to play the day before. One child in the group, who had not become ill, stated that they had been eating some berries; he had only eaten one, but the others had consumed quite a few. When the area where they had been playing was examined, it was found that there were 2 large blackberry bushes covered with ripe berries; intertwined, however, was the plant Atropa Belladonna or Deadly Nightshade, also with large black berries.
Belladonna is Italian for beautiful woman, and the plant gained its name through the ancient use of eyedrops containing berry extract to dilate a woman's pupils, so that she appeared more attractive and seductive. After long term use this practice often resulted in mental problems, hallucinations, or blindness. All parts of the plant are toxic when directly consumed, and belladonna has been the cause of both deliberate and accidental poisonings.
Despite its name, Deadly Nightshade has its uses. Belladonna was used in the past as a pain reliever and muscle relaxer. Up until the early 1990s, a medication called Donnagel containing belladonna and opium as well as pectin and kaolin was available by prescription to treat severe diarrhea. (It is no longer available in the US, which is unfortunate. It worked great and tasted like banana.)