HENBANE (Fr. jusquiaume, from the Gr. voo-Kvafios, or hog's-bean; Ital. giusquiamo; Ger. Sckwarzes Bilsenkraut, Hiihnertod, Saubohne and Zigeuner-Korn or " gipsies' corn "), the common name of the plant Hyoscyamus niger, a member of the natural order Solanaceae, indigenous to Britain, found wild in waste places, on rubbish about villages and old castles, and cultivated for medicinal use in various counties in the south and east of England. It occurs also in central and southern Europe and in western Asia extending to India and Siberia, and has long been naturalized in the United States. There are two forms of the plant, an annual and a biennial, which spring indifferently from the same crop of seed the one growing on during summer to a height of from i to 2 ft., and flowering and perfecting seed; the other producing the first season only a tuft of radical leaves, which disappear in winter, leaving underground a thick fleshy root, from the crown of which arises in spring a branched flowering stem, usually much taller and more vigorous than the flowering stems of the annual plants. The biennial form is that which is considered officinal. The radical leaves of this biennial plant spread out flat on all sides from the crown of the root; they are ovate-oblong, acute, stalked, and more or less incisely-toothed, of a greyish-green colour, and covered with viscid hairs; these leaves perish at the approach of winter. The flowering stem pushes up from the root-crown in spring, ultimately reaching from 3 to 4 ft. in height, and as it grows becoming branched, and furnished with alternate sessile leaves, which are stem-clasping, oblong, unequally-lobed, clothed with glandular clammy hairs, and of a dull grey-green, the whole plant having a powerful nauseous odour. The flowers are shortlystalked, the lower ones growing in the fork of the branches, the upper ones sessile in one-sided leafy spikes which are rolled back at the top before flowering, the leaves becoming smaller upwards and taking the place of bracts. The flowers have an urn-shaped calyx which persists around the fruit and is strongly veined, with five stiff, broad, almost prickly lobes; these, when the soft matter is removed by maceration, form very elegant specimens when associated with leaves prepared in a similar way. The corollas are obliquely funnel-shaped, of a dirty yellow or buff, marked with a close reticulation of purple veins. The capsule opens transversely by a convex lid and contains numerous seeds. Both the leaves and the seeds are employed in pharmacy. The Mahommedan doctors of India are accustomed to prescribe the seeds. Henbane yields a poisonous alkaloid, hyoscyamine, which is stated to have properties almost identical with those of atropine, from which it differs in being more soluble in water. It is usually obtained in an amorphous, scarcely ever in a crystalline state. Its properties have been investigated in Germany by T. Husemann, Schroff, Hohn, etc. Hohn finds its chemical composition expressed by CigHjs^Oa. (Compare Hellmann, Beitrage zur Kennlnis der physiolog. Wirkung des Hyoscyamins, etc., Jena, 1874.) In small and repeated doses henbane has been found to have a tranquillizing effect upon persons affected by severe nervous irritability. In poisonous doses it causes loss of speech, distortion and paralysis. In the form of extract or tincture it is a valuable remedy in the hands of a medical man, either as an anodyne, a hypnotic or a sedative. The extract of henbane is rich in nitrate of potassium and other inorganic salts. The smoking of the seeds and capsules of henbane is noted in books as a somewhat dangerous remedy adopted by country people for toothache. Accidental poisoning from henbane occasionally occurs, owing sometimes to the apparent edibility and wholesomeness of the root.
See Bentley and Trumen, Medicinal Plants, 194 (1880).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)