7 Moonflower Symbolisms & Meanings in Myth, Literature & Art

The moonflower, also known as the jimsonweed, apple thorn or datura, carries deep symbolic meanings that often times appear contradictory.

Its unique properties have been known since ancient times, and because of them the moonflower symbolizes femininity, danger, beauty but also prophecy, wildness that can be tamed and healing.

The moonflower is a plant of evil

For centuries the moonflower has been associated with witchcraft, death, and horror, as it was a common ingredient in witches’ recipes.

In France, the plant has earned sinister names like herbe du diable and pomme du diable, which translate to “devil’s herb” and “devil’s apple.”

The moonflower’s bad reputation primarily comes from its poisonous and hallucinatory properties, which can be used to either kill a person or render them helpless.

In India, where the plant grows abundantly, it has been used by thieves, assassins, and prostitutes to intoxicate their victim and make them helpless.

The plant is known by various ominous names in India, such as the drunkard, the madman, the deceiver, and the fool-maker, as well as the tuft of Siva, with Siva being the god of destruction.

During the 17th century, there were reports of soldiers using the moonflower during warfare to contaminate water supplies, disorienting or even poisoning their enemies.

The moonflower is poisonous

The moonflower contains several potent alkaloids, including atropine and scopolamine. Because of its combination of useful and dangerous properties, the moonflower has been responsible for more plant poisoning cases than any other plant.

Its American nickname, jimson or jimsonweed, originates from Jamestown, the first Virginia colony.

Numerous Jamestown colonists unintentionally poisoned themselves with moonflowers when experimenting with local “pot herbs.”

Signs of moonflower poisoning are blurry vision, parched throat, vertigo, hallucinations, garbled speech, inability to urinate, coma, and typically culminating in death.

The moonflower’s fruit is about the size of a walnut and covered in spines, giving it the name “thorn apple.”

This fruit contains many rough, black seeds, which when ground have the same properties as the leaves but are far more concentrated, making them extremely poisonous.

The moonflower symbolizes hallucinations and prophetic dreams

Since ancient times, the moonflower has been known to have psychotropic properties, which allow users to escape into imaginary worlds far from reality.

Moonflower plants were grown near the Delphic temple in ancient Greece, where priests used the drug to achieve a trance-like state during religious ceremonies.

During the Middle Ages, as gypsy bands traveled across Europe from Russia, they left behind various recipes for the drug, including medicinal ones, which were often misremembered or misused.

In China, it became illegal to add stramonium, a drug derived from moonflower leaves, to alcoholic drinks due to its excessive use and presumably harmful effects.

 In Central and North America, various tribes of Indigenous people, known as “diggers” for their practice of digging roots for food, used the drug to induce prolonged hallucinations during religious rites marked by intense revelry.

However, the seeds of the moonflower are extremely poisonous so great care is to be taken when using them to produce hallucinogenic effects.

The moonflower symbolizes wildness that can be tamed

Although moonflower is known for its poisonous and hallucinatory effects, it also possesses medicinal properties, such as treating asthma and bronchial issues.

Renaissance botanist John Gerarde even claimed that moonflower juice, when combined with hog’s grease and made into a salve, could cure inflammations, burns, and other injuries.

The moonflower belongs to the nightshade family, which contains both dangerous and commonly used plants.

Deadly nightshades such as mandrake and henbane are all rich in alkaloids that can be harmful, but when used correctly, can be turned into life-saving medicines.

At the same time, other members of the nightshade family, like tobacco, tomatoes, and potatoes, are widely used in everyday life.

This balance between wildness and usefulness embodies the moonflower’s wild spirit that can be harnessed for good, but only when treated with care and respect.

The moonflower symbolizes capricious beauty

The moonflower has been compared to the capricious and beautiful woman who remains hidden during daylight but shines brightly under the lights of bars and ballrooms.

It is here that she flaunts her charm and enjoys the admiration she receives, captivating the interest of passionate individuals from the opposite sex.

However, despite her allure, she doesn’t genuinely offer her love or affection to those who are captivated by her, because she either disappears on the light of day or intoxicates her lovers so much they forget themselves.

The moonflower symbolizes mystery and seduction

The moonflower symbolizes mystery, seduction, and danger due to its blooming cycle and intoxicating fragrance.

The moonflower remains hidden during the day, only to bloom and reveal its beauty at night. This secretive and nocturnal behavior adds an air of mystery to the plant.

The immense, bell-shaped petals, formed of ivory and stained with purple, emit an enticing perfume that is hard to resist.

However, the powerful perfume serves as a double-edged sword.

While it attracts and invigorates, it can also be dangerous, causing intoxication and hysterics even when inhaled in the open air.

This combination of alluring beauty and potential danger makes the moonflower a symbol of mystery, seduction, and peril.

The moonflower represents the female aspect

The moonflower is strongly associated with femininity because of how it blooms during the night and wilts during the day, its intoxicating perfume but also its white petals.

The moonflower’s associated is perhaps the most important reason. Throughout history the moon has been associated with feminine energy. The moon has been linked to goddesses, such as Artemis, Diana, and Selene in Greek and Roman mythology, and lunar deities from other cultures.

The moonflower’s nocturnal blooming habits have contributed to its connection with femininity, as the night has often been considered a time of mystery, intuition, and receptivity – qualities that have most cultures have attributed to women.

The moonflower’s large, white petals can be seen as a symbol of purity, innocence, and spirituality. In many cultures, these qualities have been associated with femininity and the archetypal “virgin” or “maiden” aspect of womanhood.

Gifting (or receiving) a moonflower

So you have been given (or want to give) a moonflower as a gift. How should this be interpreted?

On one hand, the moonflower represents magic, enchantment, and bewitchment, as well as symbolizing transformation, which can be seen as a positive and exciting change. When gifted, the moonflower suggests that the recipient should anticipate significant changes in their life, influenced by the person giving the plant.

On the other hand, the moonflower has a darker side, with connections to witchcraft, death, and horror. Its toxic properties and history of being used for nefarious purposes contribute to its sinister reputation.

In this context, a moonflower gift might be viewed as an ominous gesture, where the moonflower gift can be seen as sarcastic, or maybe even treacherous.


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  • A dictionary of symbols by Chevalier, Jean
  • Dictionary of symbols by Chetwynd, Tom
  • A dictionary of dream symbols : with an introduction to dream psychology by Ackroyd, Eric
  • Illustrated dictionary of symbols in eastern and western art by Hall, James
  • Dictionary of symbols and imagery by Vries, Ad de
  • Symbolism : a comprehensive dictionary by Olderr, Steven
  • Dictionary of mythology, folklore and symbols by Jobes, Gertrude
  • The complete dictionary of symbols by Tresidder, Jack
Atlas Mythica

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