Andy (m31andy) wrote in urbandiary,

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Henbane - Write Up

Heh, this stuff is scary. Not because it's quite poisonous (it is), but because it's one of the uglier plants around.

But because I've got some good pics that we took last year up in Lincolnshire, here is a write-up.

Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger)

Synonyms: Common Henbane. Henbell. Hyoscyamus. Hog's-bean. Jupiter's-bean. Symphonica. Cassilata. Cassilago. Deus Caballinus.

Henbane is an annual, growing to around four or five feet tall. The plant is hairy and very sticky. The leaves are large, oblong and very often toothed, clasping the stem. The flowers are a creamy white, bell-shaped and veined purple, appearing between May and September. The plant can be found throughout Central and Southern Europe and in western Asia, extending to India and Siberia. The whole plant is very poisonous. The fresh leaves have a strong disagreeable narcotic odour when bruised, somewhat like tobacco which is of the same family, Solanaceae.

The herb is called Hogs-bean and both the generic name Hyoscyamus and in the French Jusquiasmus are derived from the Greek hyos and cyamos meaning “Bean of the Hog” as the animal is supposedly able to eat it without any ill effect. The common English name “Henbane” however refers to the effects the plant has on poultry. Cows also are affected by the plant and it has been used in the past in cows fodder for the purpose of fattening them.

The medicinal uses of Henbane date from remote ages, it was well known to the Ancients being particularly be Dioscorides in the first Century AD who used it to procure sleep and allay pain. It is also mentioned in Saxon works on medicine of the 11th Century. It is supposedly the herb referred to by Shakespeare in Hamlet:

“Sleeping within mine orchard
My custom always of the afternoon
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of mine ear did pour
The leprous distilment.

In mythology we read that the dead in Hades were crowned with it as they wandered beside the Styx.

In poisoning by Henbane the subject are sedative and narcotic. Though in large doses it can cause convulsions and insanity. As a member of the Nightshade family the plant contains atropine and the characteristic symptom of dilation of the pupils can be observed in subjects who have ingested the plant.


Close up of the flowers
Tags: flower write-up, flowers, henbane, herbal
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