Henbane is considered a poisonous plant. In spring it is slightly less poisonous than in summer. In the plant’s first year it is less poisonous than in its second. It often grows along roads. The plant has pale yellow flowers with purple veins. Henbane is known worldwide for its toxicity. It has been used for millennia to induce hallucinations. However, that is life-threatening. As with many poisonous plants, this herb has a medicinal effect. Paracelsus said in the 16th century that the dose determines the difference between a poison or medicinal herb. Because the plant is highly poisonous, you should never experiment with the herb yourself. NB! This article is written from the personal view of the author and may contain information that is not scientifically substantiated and/or in line with the general view.
Botanical drawing henbane / Source: Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler’s Medizinal-Pflanzen, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)
- Myth henbane
- Magic herb
- History of use of henbane
- Active substances henbane
- Always consult a herbal therapist
- Henbane for Parkinson’s and old age trembling
- Henbane for cramps
- Henbane for gout and rheumatic pain
- Therapeutic dose and safety
There is a myth about this plant. It is said to have originated as follows: After the Fall, God said to the serpent: You shall crawl on your belly and eat earth all the days of your life. The snake furiously spat its poison on the earth and where the poison landed, the henbane, the datura and the celandine appeared.
Magicians picked henbane on the 23rd and 29th days of the lunar cycle and stored it under barley or wheat. Then they dipped the plant in a spring and began to sprinkle it on the dry land. That was an act that should cause rainfall. Furthermore, the one who carried henbane would always be cheerful and loved by the opposite sex.
History of use of henbane
Traditionally, this plant has been used in small amounts as an analgesic. An infusion was made from the seed and leaves against cramps. It has been customary for a while to use this plant externally for rheumatism, but this also resulted in cases of poisoning. The plant sap can penetrate the skin and bloodstream. In Siberia, an infusion was made from the leaves and mixed with beer. This drink has intoxicating properties and triggers hallucinations. In the ancient days of Egypt, Nubia and East India, the seeds were roasted to prepare a drink for the same purposes.
Inedible henbane beans in development / Source: Pipi69e, Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)
In Latin, the language of scientists, henbane is called Hyoscyamus niger . Dutch has some alternative names such as Dolkruid, Malkruid, Zwijnenboom, Hennebloemen and Belledonne. Mad and malwort refer to the state of madness achieved by people who drank tea from this plant. Hennebloemen has to do with ‘going away’. Consuming this plant has often resulted in fatal consequences. Belledonne was given the name because its effect is comparable to Atropa belladonna or belladonna. The first part of the Latin name consists of the two Greek words Huos and Kuamos. Huos means ‘sign of disapproval’ and kuamos means ‘bean’. An inedible bean grows on this plant, hence the name. Niger means ‘black’ and that refers to the black specks on the grey-brown seed.
Active substances henbane
The leaves of henbane are used. This leaf contains tropane alkaloids such as hyoscyamine and scopolamide, apoatropine, atropine, tropine, scopine and scopoline. It also contains flavones including rutin, amino acids, the minerals potassium chloride and potassium nitrate, fatty oil, essential oil and resins.
Always consult a herbal therapist
The medicinal effectiveness of henbane is similar to that of atropa belladonna, but henbane generally has a milder effect. The use of henbane should be done in consultation with a doctor or herbal therapist because the effective amount is close to the toxic value.
Henbane for Parkinson’s and old age trembling
Henbane has a soothing effect on the parasympathetic nervous system. This nervous system originates at the location of the central nervous system and continues into the spinal cord. It is responsible for the regulation of internal organs and endocrine glands. The vagus nerve is the most important part of the parasympathetic nerve. Henbane influences the vagal tone and thus the heart rhythm. Because of these medicinal properties, henbane is used in phytotherapy for the following indications:
- Parkinson’s disease,
- Senile tremor or old age tremor.
Henbane for cramps
Henbane has antispasmodic properties. It is mainly used for cramps in the digestive tract and urinary tract. It works less well than belladonna, so slightly more should be taken when using henbane. Henbane also has an empirically proven use for constipation and bedwetting, but this has not been clinically proven. In herbal medicine, henbane was used more often in the following indications than in current phytotherapy:
- Gastrointestinal colic,
- Biliary colic,
- renal colic,
- Atonic constipation.
Henbane for gout and rheumatic pain
Henbane can be used externally if the therapeutic dose is adhered to. In the past, people experimented with the leaves themselves and that could lead to dangerous situations. Henbane has a proven analgesic and relaxing effect. In phytotherapy it is used for:
- Rheumatic pains,
Therapeutic dose and safety
Always consult with a doctor or herbal therapist before starting use.
- 100 to 200mg herbal powder at a time and a maximum of 400mg per day.
- 30mg of a dry extract two to three times a day up to 100mg per day.
- One to four grams of tincture per day, where 1 gram is 57 drops. (The weight of a drop varies per type of tincture.)
- Henbane should never be taken if one is also taking medications based on digitalis or foxglove because there is a risk of kidney blockage.