Black Nightshade (Solanum nigrum)
Image credit: Juniper Wildwalk (post author) — BY-NC-SA (2016)
This beautiful but poisonous plant is native to Europe, but due to its hardy and invasive nature has spread all across the world, including to Australia. It’s jet-black berries form into distinctive clusters, and its five white petals arrange themselves naturally into perfect pentagrams.
Nightshades are associated strongly with Hekate, most especially Hekate Chthonia or “Hekate of the Underworld”. Hekate is a Greek goddess of magick, crossroads, spirits and the restless dead, transitions and changes, the future, necromancy, and many other elements of life, death and everything else. Hekate’s sacred plants are all poisonous plants, such as yew, hellebore, mandrake and mistletoe, but most especially the nightshades.
In Wicca, nightshades and Hekate have both been long associated with the New Moon and with the Crone aspect of the Goddess. Hekate is often depicted as a triple goddess, and her most sacred sites are places where three paths meet at a crossroads. Finding nightshade at these sites is a sure sign of magickal activity at these places, and that these places are blessed by the Crone Goddess of magick and witchcraft, and by Hekate.
Black nightshade is of course poisonous, with most of the toxicity found in the unripe green or grey berries. However all parts of the plant are toxic, even if small amounts of the ripe berries are sometimes eaten after heavy preparation. If you wish to harvest black nightshade, you must wear gloves when handling it and wash your skin if it touches you, because it can be absorbed through the skin.
Usages of Black Nightshade in Witchcraft
Nightshades have been long associated with death and spirits, due to their poisonous nature and their usages in traditional flying ointments (skin-administered ointments that induced trance states). The berries, especially fresh ones or dried and powdered berries, have been mixed with alcohol and dragon’s blood to make an ink, designed to draw curses or spirit sigils. Dried and preserved branches were placed around altars to invoke spirits and spirit magick.
Leaves and berries were sometimes used in non-ingested potions (designed for applying to objects or for storing in sealed jars, not drinking) that are used for increasing magickal potency. They can also be used as an element in an altar, totem bag, herb pouch, or any other such magickal device as a means of increasing one’s ability to enter the spirit world when meditating. Place inside a small leather bag and hang it around your neck, or place 5 boughs of nightshade in a pentagram on an altar before you as you meditate to dramatically increase the ease of entry and potency of spirit world journeys.
In the past people have burnt nightshades in order to summon spirits, however this is extremely dangerous. Black nightshade IS very poisonous, and burning it will cause it to be absorbed directly into your bloodstream. This could easily kill you, because you’re getting a high dosage very fast.
Never burn, inhale, ingest, vapourise, apply to your skin or otherwise consume any poisonous nightshades. It is potentially life-threatening to do this!
Picking Nightshades: When’s best?
When you’re picking nightshades for usage in magick, it’s important to remember that place, time and date all matter to increase magickal effectiveness. For best effects, you should try to get as many of these conditions as possible when picking your nightshades:
- At a crossroads
- Under the waning or new moon
- At midnight
- During the autumn, especially Samhain
- From a place where a body has been interred (e.g. a cemetery, please don’t kill anyone just for a spell)
- Cut with secateurs or a bolline coloured black or blue and made of something other than iron or steel
Please wear gloves when handling poisonous nightshades!
– Juniper Wildwalk