Thorn Apple

Datura stramonium

Herbs gallery - Thorn Apple

Common names

  • Apple-of-Peru
  • Devil's-apple
  • Jamestown Weed
  • Jimsonweed
  • Mad Apple
  • Stinkweed
  • Thornapple

An annually growing herb, thorn apple grows up to a height of four feet and has a stinking smell. The oval leaves of this herb are irregularly jagged and grow up to 8 inches in length. Thorn apple bears attractive, white-hued and trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom between July and October. The flowers produce a spiky spherical capsule that encloses kidney-shaped, compressed seeds whose color vary from deep brown to black.

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Although thorn apple possesses a number of therapeutic properties, for instance analgesic, antispasmodic and narcotic, it is advised that you keep away from this plant. All the parts of this plant, which is considered to be a weed belonging to the disreputable nightshade plant family, are tremendously venomous and may possibly result in death.

There was a time when thorn apple was a very popular remedy for asthma. People enduring asthma used to breathe in the smoke exuded by burning the leaves of thorn apple or, alternately, smoked the dried leaves of the plant for relief. Owing to the hazardous side effects of thorn apple, this weed was banned for sale as an over-the-counter medication. In traditional herbal medicine, the root and leaves of thorn apple were used topically to heal cuts and boils. In his book Medicinal Plants published in 1892, American botanist and physician Charles Millspaugh has said that the thorn apple plant was used in the form of a narcotic and demulcent medication for alleviating health conditions like neuralgia and epilepsy. He also documented that this plant was prescribed as a salve for treating scalds and burn injuries.

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Parts used

Leaves, flowering tops, seeds, root.

Uses

When used in small doses, thorn apple is a widespread medication for treating a number of health conditions, including asthma, muscle spasm, whooping cough and even the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. It has been proved that thorn apple helps to unwind the muscles of the bronchial, gastrointestinal and urinary tracts. In addition, this herb also facilitates in lessening mucous and digestive secretions. Similar to the deadly nightshade, even thorn apple may be applied topically to alleviate neuralgia and rheumatic pains.

Currently, thorn apple is employed to cure asthma as well as gastrointestinal disorders. In addition, this plant is also used to alleviate aches, arthritis, abscesses, headaches, boils, sprains, hemorrhoids, swellings, tumors and rattlesnake bites. When used in major doses it works as a tranquilizer as well as a stimulant in conditions that cause delirium. Thorn apple is also an anodyne or pain reliever, antibiotic, narcotic and antispasmodic.

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In effect, thorn apple is very analogous to belladonna vis-à-vis the symptoms produced by the plant when used in small or big doses. These two drugs are virtually the same as far as their toxicity and common physiological as well as remedial actions are concerned. This is primarily owing to the fact that both these drugs (thorn apple and belladonna) have similar strength in actions and even their preparations may be employed in the same doses.

It may be noted that thorn apple has nearly been used for treating all the medical conditions for which belladonna is used more commonly, but thorn apple acts more potently on the respiratory organs and, over the years, has acquired an exceptional reputation a being among the main medications for treating spasmodic asthma. In fact, thorn apple is mostly used as the major ingredient in remedial powders and cigarettes meant for treating asthma compared to the internal use of the plant. In fact, the practice of smoking datura for treating asthma was brought in from the East Indies to Great Britain by one general and later the English species of the genus replaced the species that were transported from India or Hindustan, as the country was known then.

Earlier, the roots of thorn apple were extensively used for medicinal purposes. For instance, people in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) used the leaves, stem as well as the fruit by cutting them all together to prepare burning powders for treating asthma. However, the dried leaves of thorn apple are used more or less solely for treating asthma in Sri Lanka these days. The beneficial effects caused by using the powdered thorn apple is attributed to atropine, a chemical substance enclosed by the plant and which helps in paralyzing the pulmonary branch endings, thereby, alleviating bronchial spasm. The leaves of thorn apple may be used to make special cigarettes or smoked in a pipe, either individually or blended with tobacco, sage, cubebs, belladonna as well as other drugs.

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On the other hand, the more common use of thorn apple leaves is grounding them coarsely and blending in some aromatic as well as equal amounts of potassium nitrate into cones with a view to enhance combustion. This blend is then burnt in a saucer and the smoke exuded is breathed into the lungs. Inhaling the smoke of this blend is known to provide great amounts of relief and the effect is said to be more favourable when the powdered thorn apple is burnt and the smoke exuded is inhaled compared to when the leaf of the plant is smoked by the asthma patients as cigarettes or cigars or in a pipe. However, similar to most other drugs, the relief is not all that great and the action is mere pain relieving when it is used constantly. In such cases, the causes responsible for an asthma attack are not affected even by smoking the dry leaves of thorn apple.

When people smoking or inhaling the burnt leaves of thorn apple to alleviate the symptoms of asthma or other respiratory tract problems experience dryness of the mouth and throat it indicates that they have taken excessive amounts of this noxious plant. In addition to using the thorn apple leaves to be smoked with tobacco, the seeds of this plant are also used in the form of an anodyne and narcotic. For the later purposes, the seeds are used as an extract that is prepared by boiling the seeds in water or, alternately, mashing them in alcohol. Occasionally, many people also have a preference for the tincture prepared with thorn apple seeds. The seed extract is given in tablet forms to patients with a view to alleviate whooping cough, cough in sporadic bronchial asthma as well as in spasm of the bladder. In fact, the seed extract of thorn apple is thought to be a more effective remedy for cough compared to opium. However, here is a word of caution. The seed extract of thorn apple ought to be used with tremendous prudence, because an over-dose of this medication is actually a very potent narcotic poison.

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When applied topically in the form of salve, balm, fomentation or plasters, thorn apple helps to alleviate muscular pain in the instance of neuralgia, rheumatism as well as those caused by abscesses, fistula, hemorrhoids and other analogous inflammations.

Other medical uses

Habitat and cultivation

Thorn apple grows naturally in several parts of the world, including the two Americas, Asia, Europe and North Africa. In Germany, France and Hungary, people cultivate this plant for its therapeutic uses. While the leaves and flowering tops of thorn apple are harvested during the summer, the seeds of the plant are collected during the early part of autumn when globular capsules rupture.

It is comparatively easy to grow thorn apple plants. This species grows excellently in an open and sunlit condition. The plants thrive when grown in reasonably good soil, but a rich sandy clay having a leaf mould added or a rich calcareous soil is ideal for the robust growth of thorn apple. The plants are propagated by their seed, which needs to be sown thinly since the plants achieve a fine size and grow unrestricted from their seeds. It is best to sow the seeds in May in bores measuring three feet away from one another and seldom covered.

For proper growth of thorn apple, the soil ought to be maintained clear of weeds during the early stages of the plant's growth. Nevertheless, the plants are so strong and quick to take offence that they require little or no care at the later stages of their growth. In case the summers are very hot and arid, the plants need to be provided with a mulching comprising decomposed cow-manure.

As mentioned earlier, thorn apple plants may be propagated from their seeds, which should be sown in hot-bed during February - March or in April in boxes in a breezy greenhouse. When the seedlings have grown sufficiently large to be handled, they need to be pricked individually and planted in separate, small pots. The seedlings are grown in these pots with sufficient air and light till June and subsequently, transplanted in their permanent positions outdoors. This species can be transplanted without any difficulty.

In case you are cultivating thorn apple as a leaf crop, the capsules should be collected immediately when they are formed. This is because when there is a wind, the spines of mature capsules rip the leaves. Therefore, it is advisable that you should always collect and keep some seeds for propagation purposes particularly for this objective.

Constituents

Chemical analysis of thorn apple has revealed that the plant encloses about 0.2 per cent to 0.45 per cent tropane alkaloids, particularly hyoscine and hyoscyamine, flavonoids, coumarins, tannins and withanolides. It may be noted that the tropane alkaloids enclosed by thorn apple are comparable to those present in poisonous nightshade, which work to lessen secretions as well as unwind smooth muscles.

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Comments

From Corinne of Portland, OR - Jul-21-2011
The English painter Turner used Thorn apple to ease himself after the death of his father. It gave him terrible nightmares and fears about his own death, which he felt was coming soon. When he stopped taking the drug, the constant fears diminished but the nightmares haunted him for the rest of his life.
From John - 2010
This weed is a pest in Australia although not mentioned above. It inhabits wasteland, dumps, sheep yards and is a hazard in lucerne hay where the spiny pods cause pain to animals and humans handling it. Its poisonous attributes mean it is a plant which requires constant surveillance and elimination where possible.
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