The nightshade branch of the plant kingdom is one I have been deeply fascinated with and I have made a little goal for myself to write a blog post on every plant that comes under this branch as I wish to gain knowledge about these herbs. And to start off, I decided to write about Henbane, which happens to be quite toxic but useful at the same time.
Where do you come from?
Henbane, also known as Hen Killer due to the words Anglo-Saxon origin has been quite popular in Europe, where it is said to have originated before spreading its wings throughout the world. Moreover, Henbane had been widely popular in terms of its uses and side effects in the medicinal world, that even now it is used for various purposes.
The plant belongs to the nightshade family and can be highly toxic if taken in large doses. However, it can have healing properties if it is used in smaller amounts and have been used mainly as an analgesic in the past.
In order to distinguish it, Henbane has brownish-yellow flowers with thin, purple veins running through the petals, now if this isn’t magical, I don’t know what is, considering it just adds to the beauty of the plant. Moreover, this plant tends to be quite hairy as the stem and the leaves have hair on them. The plant grows biennially (twice a year) and the flowers can be seen in the first half of the year but the plant is still weak when it comes to the annual flowers, but it becomes stronger during the latter half when the flowers become darker.
Henbane is a widely popular and has eleven species. This plant originated from Europe where it was used for multiple purposes but spread throughout the world in America, Africa and Asia. And when I was researching for this topic, I found that it is also available in my country, which did surprise me since I thought it would not be here, though I have yet to see it.
Moreover, all parts of the plant are used for various purposes, which just goes to show that Henbane is popular though it is deadly. It contains various alkaloids such as Atropine, Tropane and Scopolamine which are used to reduce spasms and relax muscles.
What is your purpose?
Henbane is multiple uses, especially in Europe where it was first discovered, it was used to treat earache and toothaches. Furthermore, in the pharmacological world, Henbane is used for its hallucinogenic and analgesic qualities, as well as to sedate and relax the muscles.
However, overdosing can result in some serious health issues such as motor imbalance and hallucinations. Various cases have been reported where people ingested too much of this herb which resulted in pain and hallucinations unlike anything they have experienced before. Also, Henbane proves to be quite toxic for children, as cases had been reported that they behaved aggressively and had slurred speech.
And if somebody has ingested too much of Henbane is suffering from plant poisoning, the treatment is usually the cleaning out of the stomach and require intensive care since we all know by now just how toxic this plant can be.
So if you wish to experience hallucinations and delirium, then indulge in a little henbane but be careful as the harmful effects can prove to be fatal and keep the children away from it considering it can have some serious consequences.
Stories and Beliefs about Henbane
There is plenty of folklore to go around when it comes to Henbane since it tends to have hallucinogenic properties. The name basically means Hen Killer because the thieves used to feed this herb to the hens which caused them to fall asleep, making it easier for the thieves to steal them.
Another interesting concept I found was that this herb is also known as the witch’s herb because due to its hallucinogenic properties it can make a person feel as if he or she is flying in the air and it was believed that witches used this herb in order to ride their broomsticks and that is where the notion of a witch flying on a broomstick came from. Also, it was believed that this herb invited rain and sterilized the livestock and this was once again blamed on the witches, saying that they used henbane in order to do this.
Furthermore, salve made from henbane is applied on parts of the body which have a thin skin in order to experience hallucinations and those women who experienced hallucinations—due to henbane or other causes—were considered to be sorcerers and therefore were burned at the stake.
Also it is reported that Cleopatra herself tried to commit suicide by using henbane but was shocked when she learned about how it killed her servants, which led her to choose snake poison instead.
Moreover, cases have been reported from the Neolithic times that henbane was used in rituals of the dead and death, believing that henbane was used as an offering to the dead.
It is also believed that those who ended up in the Underworld—Hades’ realm—were crowned with henbane as they roamed the river Styx, hopelessly.
According to the Greeks, the use of henbane made one prophetic and all the priestesses Oracle of Delphi used henbane in order to receive prophecies.
The fact that henbane is said to be a plant of Saturn or Jupiter was something I found intriguing considering I never thought planets would have corresponding plants. Some believe that henbane’s ability to deliver a quick death is the reason why it should be corresponded with Saturn but others believe it should be corresponded with Jupiter since it is a powerful herb associated with madness and should be corresponded with the god Odinn.
Food for Thought
Considering all the information you have read above, what other uses and folklore regarding Henbane do you know of? Do let me know in the comments below and if you would like to know more about this fascinating herb, you can watch this video here.