This section is from the book "British Wild Flowers - In Their Natural Haunts Vol2-4", by A. R. Horwood. Also available from Amazon: A British Wild Flowers In Their Natural Haunts.
Like Deadly Nightshade, this southern plant is of quite modern origin apparently. It is found in the North Temperate Zone in Europe, N. Africa, N.W. Asia, and India. In Great Britain it grows in the Peninsula, Channel, Thames, Anglia, Severn provinces; in S. Wales, not in Brecon or Radnor; in N. Wales, not in Merioneth or Flint; in the Trent province; in the Mersey district, Humber, Tyne, Lakes province; in the W. Lowlands except in Dumfries or Kirkcudbright; in the E. Lowlands except in Peebles, Selkirk, Linlithgow; in Fife, Perth, Forfar, and Dumbarton. It is not native in Scotland, and occurs in Ireland and the Channel Islands.
Henbane is nowhere common, but is found here and there in sandy districts on waste ground, such as kitchen middens; and Hound's Tongue, Mullein, Viper's Bugloss, Borage, Bittersweet, Deadly Nightshade are all of the same status.
This fetid weed, so well distinguished by its mousy smell and the netted petals of the corolla, has an erect stem, slightly branched with radical leaves, wavy, divided nearly to the base, clammy, sticky, and hairy, light green or yellow. The upper leaves are clasping, stalkless, and the lower ones stalked.
The flowers are yellow, with a net of purple veins, drooping, large, broadly funnel-shaped, and arranged in one or two rows on the side of the flower-stalk, nearly stalkless and axillary. The fruit is erect, enclosed in the calyx, which does not fall, 2-celled, membranous, many-seeded, constricted in the middle, with the lid near the top. The seeds are pitted, flattened at the side, brown, with ridges, enclosing oblong or round areas.
The Henbane is about 1 ft. to 15 in. in height. It flowers in June and July. It is triennial, and propagated by seeds. Like Deadly Nightshade, it is interesting enough to grow in the garden.
Photo. Flatters & Garnett - Henbane (Hyoscyamus Niger, L.) In Flower
The flower contains honey. The stigma and anthers ripen at the same time. The corolla is bell-shaped, plaited in hud. The hairy stamens are declinate, attached to the corolla base, with purple anthers, and provided with slits. The style is simple, the stigma pin-headed and prominent, ensuring cross-pollination. At first the stigma is longer than the stamens, but the tube grows, and the anthers are then on a level with the stigma, so that self-pollination is possible.
Humble bees visit it, and Halictus cylindricus collects pollen. The terminal flowers are said to be sometimes cleistogamic.
The fruit, a capsule enclosed by the calyx, opens by a lid above, and the seeds are thus dispersed immediately around the parent plant. Henbane usually grows in small clumps, as would result from the seeds being jerked (when the stems are dry and hard) to some distance also by the wind or upset by passing herds.
It is a sand plant, and grows mainly on sand soil.
The leaves are attacked by a fungus, Peronospora hyoscyami. A beetle, Psyl-liodes hyoscyami, 3 moths, Tiger Moth (Arctia caja), Sand Dart (Agrotis ripae), Bordered Straw (Heliothis peltiger), feed on it.
Hyoscyamus, Dioscorides, is from the Greek hus, hyos, pig, kyamos, bean. The second Latin name refers to the black fruit. It is called Belene, Brosewort, Chenile, Henbane, Hen-bell, Henkam, Loaves-of-bread, Stinking Roger. People call it Devil's Eye in Germany, as being associated with the evil one.
Ellis says as to the name Henbane: "Destroy Henbane if any grows near your house, for this will poison, and kill both these and the other fowls". The name Belene is derived from its bell-shaped capsules, belle a bell, fellen, furnished with bells in Fruit Loaves-of-bread is a child's name for the fruit.
Photo. B. Hanley - Henbane (Hyoscyamus Niger, L.)
"Hunting from the stackyard sod The stinking Henbane's belted pod By youth's warm fancies sweetly led, To christen them his Loaves of Bread."
Ben Jonson includes it in the list of witches' potions. If a hare be sprinkled with its juice in Piedmont, they say all the other hares will be scared away as if by some invisible power. Gerarde says: "The root boiled with vinegar, and the same holden hot in the mouth, easeth the pain of the teeth. The seed is used by mountebank tooth drawers, which run about the country to cause worms to come forth of the teeth by burning it in a Chafing-dish of coles, the party holding his mouth over the fume thereof; but some crafty companions to gain money, convey small lute-strings into the water, persuading the patient that those small creepers came out of his mouth or other parts which he intended to cure."
Leonato reproaches Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing for sighing for the toothache, which, he adds, "is but a tumour or a worm". The same notion is met with in Germany, where they say:
"Pear Tree, I complain to thee, Three worms sting me".
In the same region it is held to attract rain and to produce sterility. Perhaps it is referred to in Macbeth:
"Have we eaten of the same root That takes the reason prisoner".
Another writer says:
"Henbane, insane, mad, for the use thereof is perillous, for if it be eate or drinke it breedeth madnesse, or slowe lyknesse of sleepe".
It formed with opium the drug Dwale in mediaeval times. It induces sleep, and was used for operations before modern anaesthetics were discovered. The seeds were heated in a tile, and the vapour inhaled for the toothache or "worm in the teeth". It is narcotic, and used for coughs, epilepsy, and convulsions. The leaves have been smoked for the toothache. It is an anodyne and antispasmodic.
Essential Specific Characters:225. Hyoscyamus niger, L. - Stem erect, branched, leaves large, hairy, viscid, oblong, clasping, flowers yellow, with purple veins, drooping, fruit enclosed in enlarged calyx, erect, plant poisonous.