nightshade. That’s another common name attributed
to the nauseatingly aromatic henbane plant.
As a member of the nightshade
family, the henbane is not just smelly, it’s
quite deadly, too.
For thousands of years, henbane
was considered an important medicinal plant that
relieved many unpleasant symptoms. It’s
just that using it safely was a little bit tricky.
The leaves provide a highly
effective sedative, painkiller, and muscle relaxer.
Two thousand years ago, Dioscorides prescribed
henbane for insomnia and pain and it was smoked
during the Middle Ages to treat toothaches and
painful rheumatic joints.
The tricky part was using just
the right amount to bring relief without also
bringing delirium, convulsions, and insanity,
Although a proven sedative,
the herbalist John Gerard didn’t really
care for it. He wrote that henbane causes an “unquiet
sleep, like unto the sleep of drunkeness, which
continueth long and is deadly.” Safer to
just count sheep.
It was the relief of pains associated
with the joints, sciatica, and nervous headaches
that led Culpeper to place henbane under the rule
of Saturn, the planet governing the bones and
Other uses for henbane were
muscular spasms of the urinary tract, hysteria,
neuralgia, and asthma.
Witches and sorcerers are said
to have liked the hallucinations and convulsions
caused by henbane and used the plant in brews,
ointments, and rituals. They also like the narcotic
effects they got from smoking it although they
didn’t always live to finish their cigarette.
Henbane achieved great
notoriety in 1910 when a famous British physician,
Dr. Crippen, used it on his wife and became a
famous British murderer.
Kruger, Anna; An Illustrated Guide to Herbs: Their
Medicine and Magic; A Dragon’s World Book;
Limpsfield and London; 1993