The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland


Hyoscyamus niger [ Plantae: Angiosperms: Eudicots: Asterids: Solanales: Solanaceae: Hyoscyamus: Hyoscyamus niger ]

Common Names:
stinking nightshade, black henbane, Common Henbane, Hyoscyamus, Hog’s-bean, Devil’s Eye, Jupiter’s-bean, Symphonica, Cassilata, Cassilago, Deus Caballinus.

Originates in Eurasia and very common throughout central and southern Europe, Western Asia, India, and Siberia, but now is found throughout the world.

An annual plant with a almost unbranched stem that is smaller and less downy than the biennial form, leaves shorter and less hairy with yellow flowers in July or August, and its biennial member in May and June. It can grow to a height of 1-2 feet, flowering, and perfecing seeds. Underground has a thick fleshy room with crowns that arise in spring as atall branched flowering stem. The biennial plant spreads out flat on all sides from the crown and root like a rosette, oblong, and egg-shaped, with acute points, stalked and more or less sharply toothed, a foot in length with greyish-green color and covered with sticky hairs. Leaves will perish with winter. Flowering stems push up from root-crown in spring, reaching 3-4 feet in height, becoming branched and furnished with alternate, oblong, unequally lobed stalkless leaves. Most of the leaves are stem clasping and varying in size, but not often more than 9-10 inches in length.

There are 11 species. Henbane is a member of Solanaceae family, which is in lineage with Potatoes, Tobacco, Belladonna, and Tomatoes.

Cultivated varieties produce more medical matter than the wild. Grows on most soils, especially sandy beaches near the sea, chalky slopes, or loamy soil. Seeds can lie dormant for a season or more and sometimes dies in patches. Requires light, moderately rich and well drained soils. Seeds should be sown in early May or when ground warms, thinly, in rows 2-2.5 feet apart, with seedlings thinned out 2′ apart. Leaves should be collected when plant is in full flower. When drying, it loses 80-86 percent of its weight, 100 lbs yielding 14-20 lbs. of dry herb. Seeds should be gathered in August, kiln-dried for medicinal purposes, though sun-dried for certain treatments.

Common Uses:

Culinary Uses:
Henbane was often added to ‘gruit’ which is traditionally used as a flavoring for beer until it was replaced by hops in the 11-16th centuries.

Medicinal Uses:
The fresh leaves, flowering tops and branches, and seeds are the most commonly used parts of Henbane. The leaves, seeds, and juice was taken internally to create unquiet sleep, mimicking a sleep of drunkenness that continued long and death-like. It is an antispasmodic, hypnotic, and mild diuretic. It was omitted from the London Pharmacopoeia from 1746 and 1788, then restored in 1809, due to experiments by Baron Storch, who prescribed it fo epilepsy and other nervous convulsive diseases. Henbane is toxic to animals even in low doses, often leading to death; but does not affect the Cabbage Moth which eats henbane. Hyoscyamine, scopolamine, and other tropane alkaloids are found in the seeds and foliage. Effects from ingestion of henbane causes hallucinations, dilated pupils, flushed skin, restlessness, and sometimes convulsions, vomiting, hypertension, tachycardia, hyperpyrexia, and ataxia. Use of Henbane in medicine goes back to ancient times, as was recommended by Dioscorides (1st c. C.E.) who used it to procure sleep and allay pain. Culpepper claimed that its leaves will cool hot inflammations in the eyes and that it assuages pains of gout, sciatica, pains in the joints that arise from a hot cause. It can be used as a anodyne, hypnotic, or a seditive. Can be used to treat Twilight Sleep and used for acute mania and delirium tremens. Seeds are used as a domestic remedy for toothache. Smoke from the seeds on a hot plate can be applied to the mouth with a funnel or a poultice as a means of application for toothaches. Smoking leaves and seeds in a pipe can be used to treat neuralgia and rheumatism.

Magical Uses:
Throughout the history of magic, Henbane was combined with mandrake, deadly nightshade, and datura to create magical brews that were psychoactive anaesthetic potions used in flying ointments that created visual hallucinations and the feeling of flying. It was often applied via a broomstick by witches into the genitals giving effect of the lore of a witch flying on a broomstick. Commonly used in magic for its power of throwing its victims into convulsions. Anodyne necklaces made fro mthe root were hung on children’s necks as charms to prevent fits and for easy teething. The plant is believed to have been added as death offerings in burial to connect the deceased with easing the spirit out of the body to ease its passage into the otherworld. It was a common herb to produce prophecy and the priestessed of the Delphi Oracle were believed to inhale smoke from smouldering henbane in order to retrieve oracles and omens. It is also commonly used in necromancy.

Folklore and History:
Culturally it was used throughout continental Europe, Asia, and the Arabic world onwards through England during the Middles Ages. According to Pliny, The Ancient Greeks utilized Henbane as well. The Priestesses of Apollo used the plant to produce oracles. The name of Henbane goes back to 1265 with the belief that “hen” meant “death”. In 1910, Hawley Harvey Crippen, an American homeopath in London, extracted scopolamine from henbane in order to poison his wife. Henbane is believed to have been the “hebenon” that was poured into the ear of Hamlet’s father. The dead in Hades were crowned with Henbane as they wandered aimlessly beside the river Styx. To the Germans, it is believed that Henbane can attract rain and can produce sterility in land and livestock. Often used by witches to raise storms and blight crops.

The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

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