Hyoscyamus niger | ‘Black Henbane’, ‘Henbane’ | ~250 seeds
Hyoscyamus niger is an extremely poisonous, erect and bushy, annual or biennial species of the Solanaceae family. Most commonly known by the names ‘Black Henbane’ and ‘Henbane’, the species is also known as the ‘Cassilago’, ‘Cassilata’, ‘Deus Caballinus’, ‘Henbell’, ‘Hog’s Bean’, ‘Jupiter’s Bean’, ‘Jusquiame’ and ‘Stinking Nightshade’ (because of its strong and sickly smell). All parts of this plant may irritate skin on contact and are highly toxic if ingested, so we don’t recommend growing this around children or pets!
Growing to around ninety centimetres high, Hyoscyamus niger forms foul-smelling and sticky foliage approximately twenty centimetres long by twelve-and-half centimetres wide. Henbane’s striking blooms appear from late spring to early autumn and are creamy with purple centres and veins. Vase-shaped seed pods follow the flowers, each containing a multitude of the species’ relatively small seeds. Niger spreads via its seed only, preferring disturbed habitats of dry, poor and stony soils such as those found alongside gravel pits and roads.
Historically used in traditional medicine as an analgesic, anaesthetic or sedative (often in combination with other species, including various Datura and Mandragora), Henbane was also sometimes used as a flavouring and in the so-called “magic brews” of Asia, Europe and the Middle East. There has also been some debate over the apparent evidence for niger’s use as far back as the Scottish Neolithic period! As of the present time, the species is mainly grown for use in the pharmaceutical industry, although the plant’s dried flowers and seed heads make an attractive ingredient of ornamental flower arrangements too. Henbane is also still occasionally used by traditional herbalists to treat asthma, bone conditions, coughs, nervous disorders, rheumatism, toothache and stomach problems. Further, ‘Oil of Henbane’ is useful in the practice of medicinal massage.
Considered by many to be an endangered species (but also – by some – as an invasive), Hyoscyamus niger is fairly easy to grow from seed, although should not be kept in storage for too long prior to planting. Sow in neutral to alkaline soil, situate in full sun and water regularly in average amounts. Plant approximately one metre apart to ensure enough space for each plant to reach its full potential.
All the seed sold by Arkham’s Botanical was freshly and ethically sourced in 2018