Henbane is a member of Solanaceae family that grows 1-2 feet in height. It has large, pointed leaves with irregular lobes that alternate on the stem. Both the stem and leaves are sticky and have glandular hairs. The bell-shaped flowers have five white to dark yellow petals with purple veins and dark centers. The seedpods have up to 500 tiny dark brown seeds, similar to poppy seeds.
Botanical Name: Hyoscyamus niger
Common/Folk Names: Black Henbane, Cassilago, Common Henbane, Devil’s Eye, Henbane, Hebenon, Henbell, Hogsbean, Jupiter’s Bean, Poison Tobacco, and Stinking Nightshade.
Life Cycle: annual and biennial
Habitat: waste ground, roadside, soil heaps, fields, church lands, ruins, mills, harbors
Smell: nauseous odor, similar to tobacco
Taste: leaves and seeds are unpleasant, bitter, and acrid, leaves are also gluey
- Henbane is poisonous to humans and most animals. However, hogs are said to feed upon the leaves and suffer no ill effects. Hence, one of the common names is hogsbean.
- Atropine, hyoscyamine, scopolamine, and other tropane alkaloids are in the foliage and seeds.
- Common effects of henbane ingestion in humans include strong hallucinations, dilated pupils, restlessness, and flushed skin. Less common symptoms include tachycardia, convulsions, vomiting, hypertension, hyperpyrexia, and ataxia (loss of control over bodily movement).
- Eating even a low dosage of the leaves and roots produces maniacal delirium.
- Used in combination with other plants, such as mandrake, deadly nightshade, and datura, it was used as an anesthetic potion for its psychoactive properties. Don’t try it.
- Pliny documented the use of henbane.
- Gruit, an old-fashioned herb mixture used for bittering and flavoring beer, used henbane as flavoring.
- Henbane was also used to relieve pain from gout, the sciatica, and other joint pains.
- When combined with vinegar and applied to the forehead and temples, it was believed to relieve headaches and fevers.
- Necklaces were made from the root, then hung around children’s necks as charms to prevent fits and to ease teething.
- The name henbane is derived from the old belief that the seeds were fatal to poultry. Others believe the name is derived from hen-bell due to the shape of the flowers.
- Henbane is thought to be the “hebenon” poured into of Hamlet’s father ear.
- Henbane is considered a witch plant.
- The dead in Hades are crowned with henbane as they wander hopelessly beside the River Styx.
- Spells and rituals use henbane in baneful magic (harmful magic), to attract love, divination, and to bring rain.
In the Language of Flowers, it means: imperfection, fault
This is a reference for fiction writers and should not be taken as medical or spiritual advice.
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham
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