English Name—BLACK HENBANE.
French Name—Jusquiame noire.
German Name—Schwarz Bilsenkraut.
Vulgar Names—Henbane, Poison-Tobacco, Stinking Nightshade, &c.
Authorities—Lin. Pursh, Eaton, Torrey, Cullen, Murray, Fothergill, Kinglake, Withering, Schoepf, Thacher, Duncan, Coxe, and all Dispens. Eberle, A. Ives, Woodville fig. 52, Bigelow fig. 17 and seq.
Genus HYOSCIAMUS—Calix persistent, urceolate, with five unequal teeth. Corolla funnel shaped, with five unequal lobes. Stamina five, unequal. Pistil oval, stile filiform declinate, stigma obtuse. Capsule two celled, many seeded, operculate.
Species H. niger—Viscid hairy, leaves clasping, lower oval oblong, acute, sinuate or undulate: flowers unilateral, sessile, calix with sharp teeth, corolla reticulate, with rounded lobes.
Description—Root biennial, fusiform, whitish. The whole plant glaucous, hairy, glutinous, lurid, and fetid. Stem one or two feet high, stiff, round, branched. Radical or first year leaves spread on the ground, oval or oblong, undulate, contorted, acute, sessile, sinuated by large acute unequal teeth, nerve thick and branched. Lower leaves of the stem similar, crowded, alterne, clasping: upper leaves smaller, narrower, nearly entire.
Flowers forming unilateral rows on the branches, extra axillary and opposed to the leaves. Calix urceolate with five short acute and stiff segments. Corolla irregular, funnel shaped, with five unequal, spreading, rounded and entire lobes, with acute sinuses: this corolla is of a dingy yellow, with a pretty net work of purple veins. Stamina inserted in the tube of the corolla; filaments filiform unequal; anthers oblong, large, yellow. Style slender, longer than stamina, with an obtuse stigma. Capsule rounded, invested by the calix, two celled, opening by a circular lid. Seeds numerous, unequal, small, oblong, brownish.
Locality—In the Northern and Eastern States only, from Nova Scotia to Rhode Island, and extending West to New York and Canada: very rare in Ohio and Pennsylvania; unknown in the South. It is supposed to be a naturalized plant, being found merely near houses, roads, rubbish, in old fields and gardens. It is properly an European plant, scattered all over Europe and extending to Asia.
History—This genus belongs to the natural order of LURIDES, and family Verbascides, having irregular corolla or stamina, and capsular fruits. Also to Pentandria monogynia of Linnaeus.
It was known to the ancients as a violent narcotic poison; horses, cattle, deer and swine eat it with impunity, but it poisons rats. The appearance is lurid, the smell offensive and disgusting: there is therefore little danger of using it inadvertantly. The whole plant, roots and leaves, produce the usual effects of narcotics. It blossoms in June and July. The seeds are said to have the property of keeping long under ground, and germinating whenever brought to light.
Qualities—The taste is insipid, slightly acrid and mucilaginous; but the smell is virose, rank, strong, fetid, pernicious and narcotic, which, however, is lost by exsiccation: when burnt it smells like Tobacco. It contains resin, mucilage, extractive, gallic acid, nitrates and other salts, besides Hyosciam an alkaline and crystalline active principle, which does not decompose by red heat. Yet decoction is said to destroy the narcotic power of this plant, water and diluted alcohol extract it.
Properties—Narcotic, phantastic, phrenetic, anodyne, antispasmodic, repellent, discutient, &c. The whole plant may be used; but the seeds contain more Hyosciam. Externally the bruised leaves are employed in cataplasm or an ointment made of them: while internally the extract and tincture are chiefly used. The extract ought to be made with the inspissated juice without boiling, the doses are from one to ten grains. This plant operates as a powerful narcotic, and if taken in large doses, it produces drowsiness, intense thirst, anxiety, head ache, irregular hard pulse, vertigo, intoxication, delirium, dilatation of the pupil, difficulty of breathing, aphonia, trismus, coma, a falling sensation, risus sardonicus, double vision or blindness, convulsions, apoplexy, loss of speech, cold extremities, blue face, typhomania, carphologia, gangrene, and death. A single dose of one grain has even produced delirium in nervous persons. The root having been mistaken and eaten for Parsnip, has caused many of these alarming symptoms: the remedies are vegetable acids, sulphate of iron, &c. which neutralize the poison, and emetics which discharge it.
The internal use of this poison has been recommended in epilepsy, hemoptysis, colica pictorum, rheumatism, hysteria, mania, melancholy, trismus, palpitations, spasms, arthritis, glandular swellings, obstinate ulcerations, asthma, spasmodic coughs, tic douleureux, &c. by many physicians, and deemed a good substitute to opium and stramonium in most cases; but it is not so safe nor certain, and far less uniform in its operation: the smallest doses are apt to produce nausea, head ache, laborious sleep, confusion of ideas and even delirium. The stomach is inflamed and evinces dark gangrenous spots when death follows overdoses, therefore it must be considered as one of the most dangerous narcotics. It ought to be handled by experienced physicians only, and always begun by minute doses gradually increased. It may be preferable to opium in some cases, as it is rather laxative than constipating, and does not stimulate the body. It has often failed in epilepsy and convulsions. It acts better in spasmodic coughs, the leaves are directed to be simmered in olive or almond oil, and the oil used in emulsions. It is highly praised in Tic united to Valerian and Oxide of Zinc. It has been found useful in some puerperal complaints, &c.
The external use of Henbane is more safe, and equal to that of Stramonium. It may be safely employed in painful swellings, schirrous or scrofulous or cancerous ulcers, inflamed piles, indolent tumors or milk indurations of the breast, wandering rheumatic pains, inflamed eyes, spasms of the bowels; inflammation of the kidneys, urethra, bowels, testicles, &c; in chordee, blind piles, and all painful external affections, as a very efficient topical anodyne. The fresh or powdered leaves are used as well as poultices with bread and milk, or liniments in wax and oil. Injections of it for bowel complaints ought to be given in decoction of milk. The extract has been used to prepare for ophthalmic operations, by dilating the pupil, contracting the iris and diminishing sensibility. The smoke of the leaves and seeds, directed by a funnel to a carious tooth, is said to cure odontalgy; but the practice may be deleterious and attended with danger.
Substitutes—Datura Stramonium—Atropa belladonna—Solanum Sp.—Conium—Cicuta—Tobacco, Opium and other powerful narcotics. The Hyosciamus albus of Europe is a milder equivalent, as well as Humulus or hops.
Medical Flora, or Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States of North America, 1828, was written by C. S. Rafinesque.