This genus of five species of rhizomatous perennials is found from S and C Europe, and N Russia (Siberia) to the Himalayas, China, and Japan. Scopolia carniolica is grown as an ornamental for its large, deeply veined leaves and bell-shaped flowers. It is a very poisonous plant, closely related to Deadly Nightshade (Atropa bella-donna), and should be sited with care. The distribution of these two species overlaps in C Europe, and they have similar histories of medicinal uses. Scopolia carniolica contains hyoscine and hyoscyamine. It became popular in the USA during the 19th century as a substitute for Atropa bella-donna. In 1900 and alkaloid from S. carniolica was combined with morphine from Papaver somniferum (See, Opium Poppy) to produce "twilight sleep", a compound used as a pre-anesthetic prior to the administration of chloroform or ether. Scopolia resembles both Atropa (See, Deadly Nightshade) and Hysoscymus (See, Henbane) in chemistry. Four of the five species, S. carniolica, S. lurida, S. physaloides, and S. tangutica, are major sources of tropane alkaloids for the pharmaceutical industry. The Chinese S. tangutica yields hyoscyamine, anisodamine, and anisodine. Scopolia was named after Giovanni Antonio Scopoli (1723-88), polymath, author of botanical works, physician, and professor of natural history.

Clump-forming perennial with fleshy rhizomes, and ovate to ovate-oblong, pointed, deeply veined leaves, to 20cm (8in) long. Solitary, pendent, brown-purple, bell-shaped flowers, 2.5cm (1in) long with yellowish-green inner surfaces, appear in spring and early summer.

Common Name:
Other Names:
Japanese Bella-Donna
Botanical Name:
Scopolia carniolica
Native Locations:
C and SE Europe, and the Caucacus
Well-drained, moist, rich, neutral to slightly alkaline soil in shade.
By seed sown in autumn; by division in spring.
Rhizomes are lifted in autumn and processed for extraction of alkaloids.
6cm (24in)
60cm (24in)
Parts Used:
A narcotic, warming herb that dilates the pupils, relaxes spasms, and relieves pain.
Medicinal Uses:
Internally for spasms of the gastrointestinal tract, bile ducts, and urinary tract. Also in Chinese medicine, for chronic diarrhea, dysentery, stomachache, and manic-depressive states. Mainly as a source of hyoscine, and sometimes as a substitute for Atropa bella-donna (See, Deadly Nightshade) notably in the manufacture of belladonna plasters, and for Hyoscyamus niger (See, Henbane).
Toxic if eaten.
Contraindicated for children under 6, and for a number of clinical conditions.
For internal use by qualified practioners only.
This herb and its alkaloids are subject to legal restrictions in some countries.
Encyclopedia of Herbs by Deni Brown Copyright © 1995, 2001 Dorling Kindersley Limited. pp 363-364