Posted in La Fleur

Le Fleur: Hyoscyamus niger , Black Henbane

Slightly unrelated but interesting nonetheless:

The völur were referred to by many names. The Old Norse word vǫlva means “wand carrier” or “carrier of a magic staff”, and it continues Proto-Germanic *walwōn, which is derived from a word for “wand” (Old Norse vǫlr).[2] Vala, on the other hand, is a literary form based on Völva.

A spákona or spækona (with an Old English cognate, spæwīfe is a “seer, one who sees”, from the Old Norse word spá or spæ referring to prophesying and which is cognate with the present English word “spy,” continuing Proto-Germanic *spah- and the Proto-Indo-European root *(s)peḱ (to see, to observe) and consequently related to Latin specio (“(I) see”) and Sanskrit spáçati and páçyati (“(s/he) sees”, etc.).

A practitioner of seiðr is a seiðkona (female) or a seiðmaðr (male).

Please Listen Whilst you Read:

“Among other herbs which are poisonous and harmful, Henbane is not the least, so that the common man, not without fear should spit at that herb when he hears its name spoken, not to mention when he sees it growing in great quantity where his children are running at play.”

The colorful, though often tragic history of the medicinal and magical uses of Henbane can be traced a long way back. The oldest surviving record, dating to 4000 BC, stems from an inscription on a Sumerian clay tablet. It is also mentioned in the famous Ebers Papyrus (Egypt, 1500 BC), along with other important medicinal herbs. The Egyptians knew it as ‘Sakran’ – ‘The Drunken’, no doubt referring to the plant’s intoxicating properties, but perhaps also as an allusion to the ancient practice of fortifying alcoholic beverages with its seeds. This practice was very common. Dioscorides mentions a similar potion, a honey-mead prepared with Opium and Henbane seeds. Henbane-spiked mead was particularly popular among the Celts and Germans – accounts of their notorious drinking orgies bear witness to this fact. Henbane seed has also long been used as an additive for brewing beer. In fact, the name of the Czechoslovakian town of Pizen (German: ‘Pilsen’) is said to be derived from the word ‘Bilsen’ the German name for Henbane. Apparently the beer brewed there, known as ‘Pilsener’, was famous for its ‘Bilsen’-induced effects. Eventually however, the authorities put an end to this practice by implementing the first ‘anti-drug law’ in 1516, known as the ‘Deutsches Reinheitsgesetz’ (‘beer purity law). Modern day Pilsener beer no longer contains any trace of Henbane.

The ancient Greeks knew Henbane as ‘Apollinaris’ and considered it sacred to Apollo. Many scholars now believe that Henbane played an instrumental part at Apollo’s oracle in Delphi. The descriptions of the ecstatic state in which the oracle-priestess Pythia proclaimed her prophecies and reports of ‘heavy fumes’ during the ritual, leads them to suspect that Henbane seeds were used as incense. Henbane is well known for inducing states of ecstasy, a condition that used to be regarded not so much as a temporary state of derangement, but rather as a state of mind that touched upon the divine. Some writers muse that the scientific name ‘Hyoscyamos’, which translates as ‘Hogbean’ might perhaps be a corruption of ‘Dioscyamos’ which would translate as ‘Divine Bean’, a reasoning that, considering its status as a sacred plant, makes somewhat more sense. Furthermore, the rationalizations given for ‘Hogbean’ are rather contradictory. Some writers claiming that refers to the fact that pigs are supposedly immune to the plant, while others directly dispute this claim, stating that it causes them cramps. Still others believe that it refers to the story of Circe, who might have used Henbane to turn Odysseus men into pigs. However, Ovid does not mention Henbane directly, but only refers to ‘a brew made from magical herbs’. It is interesting to note that the Celts, too considered the plant sacred to their God of prophecy. According to Dioscorides they called it ‘Belenuntia’, herb of Bel, which still echoes in ‘Beleño’, the Spanish name for Henbane.
For medicinal purposes Dioscorides recommends Henbane ‘to allay pain and procure sleep’. Other common applications included an oil made from the leaves for treating obstinate rheumatic pains, gout, neuralgia and sciatica. Ulcerous wounds and swelling were dressed with a poultice made from its leaves. It was rarely taken internally, though, except for cases of severe stomach or urinary cramps, when a very dilute extract could be administered. Smoking the leaves mixed with Horehound (Marrubium vulgare) and Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) was a popular remedy for asthma and nervous or spasmodic cough. Taken in small quantities this would not produce a significant psychotropic effect, but relax the respiratory muscles while simultaneously reducing the secretion of the mucus membranes.

During the Middle Ages, Henbane became best known as a ‘Witches Herb’. It is said to have been one of the ingredients of the infamous flying ointment. Reports of their alleged activities were generally obtained by torture at the hands of the inquisition and should thus be treated with a measure of suspicion. However, the descriptions of this potion’s powerful effects are indeed very characteristic of Henbane’s psychotropic action. A reoccurring theme describes how the Witches used this ointment to transform into various animals and fly away on their broomsticks to attend orgiastic rites. Apparently the broomstick served as the means by which the ointment was applied to the sensitive mucous membranes and thus became the vehicle for an erotic flight of the imagination. Henbane also induces a sense of body dissolution, ‘as if the soul separates from the body and flies through the skies’ which would account for the witches’ subjective shape shifting experience and flight to their fabled Sabbath.
But witches were not the only ones to take pleasure in the aphrodisiac properties of this plant. Apparently, incense prepared from the seeds was commonly burned in mediaeval bath-houses. The ambience there could not have fallen far short of what one might expect from the imaginary orgiastic rites of the witches. Needless to say, the aphrodisiac properties of Henbane were also extensively used in numerous charms and love-potions.
Ironically, records found in Lucerne, Switzerland, dating to the 16th century indicate that witches condemned to death were given a ‘draught of compassion’ – a witches brew consisting mainly of Henbane that was supposed to induce a state of oblivion and insensitivity to pain.

Botanical: Hyoscyamus niger (LINN.)
Family: N.O. Solanaceae

—Synonyms—Common Henbane. Hyoscyamus. Hog’s-bean. Jupiter’s-bean. Symphonica. Cassilata. Cassilago. Deus Caballinus.
(Anglo-Saxon) Henbell.
(French) Jusquiame.
—Parts Used—Fresh leaves, flowering tops and branches, seeds.
—Habitat—It is found throughout Central and Southern Europe and in Western Asia, extending to India and Siberia. As a weed of cultivation it now grows also in North America and Brazil. It had become naturalized in North America prior to 1672, as we find it mentioned in a work published in that year among the plants ‘sprung up since the English planted and kept cattle in New England.’

It is not considered truly indigenous to Great Britain, but occurs fairly frequently in parts of Scotland, England and Wales, and also in Ireland, and has been found wild in sixty British counties, chiefly in waste, sandy places, by road-sides, on rubbish heaps and near old buildings, having probably first escaped from the old herb gardens. It is frequently found on chalky ground and particularly near the sea. It appears to have been more common in Gerard’s time (Queen Elizabeth’s reign) than it is now.

From Hamlet possibly referring to the herb:

‘Sleeping within mine orchard,

My custom always of the afternoon

Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,

With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,

And in the porches of mine ear did pour

The leprous distillment.’

Speaking of Henbane, Gerard says:

‘The leaves, the seeds and the juice, when taken internally cause an unquiet sleep, like unto the sleep of drunkenness, which continueth long and is deadly to the patient. To wash the feet in a decoction of Henbane, as also the often smelling of the flowers causeth sleep.’

Culpepper says:

‘I wonder how astrologers could take on them to make this an herb of Jupiter: and yet Mizaldus, a man of penetrating brain, was of that opinion as well as the rest: the herb is indeed under the dominion of Saturn and I prove it by this argument: All the herbs which delight most to grow in saturnine places are saturnine herbs. Both Henbane delights most to grow in saturnine places, and whole cart loads of it may be found near the places where they empty the common Jakes, and scarce a ditch to be found without it growing by it. Ergo, it is a herb of Saturn. The leaves of Henbane do cool all hot inflammations in the eyes…. It also assuages the pain of the gout, the sciatica, and other pains in the joints which arise from a hot cause. And applied with vinegar to the forehead and temples, helps the headache and want of sleep in hot fevers…. The oil of the seed is helpful for deafness, noise and worms in the ears, being dropped therein; the juice of the herb or root doth the same. The decoction of the herb or seed, or both, kills lice in man or beast. The fume of the dried herb stalks and seeds, burned, quickly heals swellings, chilblains or kibes in the hands or feet, by holding them in the fume thereof. The remedy to help those that have taken Henbane is to drink goat’s milk, honeyed water, or pine kernels, with sweet wine; or, in the absence of these, Fennel seed, Nettle seed, the seed of Cresses, Mustard or Radish; as also Onions or Garlic taken in wine, do all help to free them from danger and restore them to their due temper again. Take notice, that this herb must never be taken inwardly; outwardly, an oil, ointment, or plaister of it is most admirable for the gout . . . to stop the toothache, applied to the aching side….’

Interesting points to note:

♣     It is poisonous in all its parts, and neither drying nor boiling destroys the toxic principle. The leaves are the most powerful portion, even the odour of them when fresh will produce giddiness and stupor. Accidental cases of poisoning by Henbane are, however, not very common, as the plant has too unpleasant a taste and smell to be readily mistaken for any esculent vegetable, but its roots, which are thick and somewhat like those of salsafy, have sometimes been gathered and eaten. In one case recorded, a woman pulled up a quantity of Henbane roots which she found in a field, supposing them to be parsnips. She boiled them in soup, which was eaten by the family. The whole of the nine persons who had partaken of them suffered severely, being soon seized with indistinctness of vision, giddiness and sleepiness, followed by delirium and convulsions.

♣    It is also recorded that the whole of the inmates of a monastery were once poisoned by using the roots instead of chicory. The monks partaking of the roots for supper were all more or less affected during the night and following day, being attacked with a sort of delirious frenzy, accompanied in many cases by such hallucinations that the establishment resembled a lunatic asylum.

♣    The herb was used in magic and diabolism, for its power of throwing its victims into convulsions. It was employed by witches in their midnight brews, and from the leaves was prepared a famous sorcerer’s ointment.

♣    Anodyne necklaces were made from the root and were hung about the necks of children as charms to prevent fits and to cause easy teething.

♣    In mythology, we read that the dead in Hades were crowned with it as they wandered hopelessly beside the Styx.

♣    Although swine are said to feed upon the leaves and suffer no ill effects, this plant should not be allowed to grow in places to which cattle have access, though they seldom touch it, and its effects seem less violent on most of the larger domestic animals than on man, sheep will sometimes eat it when young, and it has occasionally been noticed that no bad effects have followed. Cows, however, have been poisoned by having Henbane mixed with their forage, it is said for the purpose of fattening them. A small quantity of the seeds of the Stramonium or Thornapple, as well as those of Henbane, are also sometimes added, the idea appears to be that the tendency to stupor and repose caused by these plants is conducive to fattening. In some districts, horse-dealers mix the seeds of Henbane with their oats, in order to fatten their animals.

FINAL THOUGHT:

“Expect Poison From The Standing Water”

-William Blake

“Even bees, the little almsmen of spring bowers, know there is richest juice in poison-flowers”

 

-John Keats

 

For more information head to : http://maxsethnobotany.blogspot.com/2009/04/henbane.html

and       http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/h/henban23.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Author:

"If he's honest, he'll steal; if he's human, he'll murder; if he's faithful, he'll deceive. Being at a loss to resolve these questions, I am resolved to leave them without any resolution." I have so much to say to you that I am afraid I shall tell you nothing."

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