Scientific Names: Hyoscyamus niger
Common names: lack henbane, Devil’s eye, Fetid nightshade, Henbell
Ayurvedic names: Parasika yavani
Chinese names: liang dang, tian xian zi
Bangladesh names: Khurasani Ajvain
Arabic names: البنج (albinj)
Rain Forest names:
Family: N.O. Solanaceae
Approximate Number of Species Known:
Common Parts Used: Fresh leaves, flowering tops and branches, seeds
Annual/Perennial: Annual, Biennial
Height: 1 to 2 feet
Actions: Anodyne, antispasmodic, calmative, narcotic, analgesic, diuretic, hypnotic
Known Constituents: Alkaloids including hyoscyamin and atropine, tannin, choline, traces of essential oil. Contains the narcotics hyoscyamine and scopolamine
Description: (please note: this is the general characteristics – colour, flavor etc)
Herb Name: Henbane
Other names: Hog’s-bean, Jupiter’s-bean, Common Henbane, Hyoscyamus, Cassilata
Scientific name: Hyoscyamus niger
Family: N.O. Solanaceae
Common part used: Fresh leaves, flowering tops and branches, seeds.
This is an extremely poisonous plant, and is even mentioned in Shakespeare’s Hamlet as a potent poison used to kill Hamlet’s father. Today it is found all through the central regions and the south of Europe, and in West Asia. It has, since the seventeenth century, spread to the Americas.
The poisonous nature of this plant is well known, and has been used to advantage (or disadvantage) in many ancient cultures, including Rome and Babylon, as well as Egypt, Persia and Greece. This plant is a dull green, so dull that it is almost grey, and sticky. It’s odour is not pleasant. It is extremely propagatory and a single plant can produce up to half a million seeds. The seeds, like all the other aspects of the plant, are extremely poisonous – just ten of them would probably poison a child.
Henbane is similar to belladonna in the sense that it contains the same alkaloid poisons. These are atropine, hyoscine, hyoscyamine, and the famous scopolamine, also known commonly as truth serum. Henbane poisoning involves the onset of insanity, and can involve both violence and seizures.
It has been used as a narcotic for centuries, despite it’s deadly nature. It was used in Germany in the brewing of beer, and by witches all over Europe as a salve that induces extremely believable hallucinations that made them believe that they possessed magical powers such as flying through the air, as well as negating societal inhibitions.
These days, of course, Henbane is hardly much used in the pursuit of magic and sorcery, it’s use tending more to pharmaceutical drugs. The potent alkaloids present in Henbane are an important source of many antispasmodics and painkillers.
Henbane drugs usually contain two main alkaloids, Hyoscine and Hyoscyamine – the former is a narcotic that moderates pain, and the latter is the muscle relaxant.
A similar combination of poisonous properties being harnessed in the service of modern medicine may be seen in the case of Solanum family, better known as the nightshades.