Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger)
Hyoscyamus niger, Henbane, also called Black Henbane and Stinking Nightshade, is an herbaceous annual from Europe. it was used as a primary ingredient in the witches’ flying ointment. Henbane has a long history of shamanic and magical use around Europe and Eurasia. It was already a tool in shamanism and witchcraft during the paleolithic period.
Since ancient times, Henbane has been known as a “hexing herb“. Along with Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna) and Mandrake (Mandragora officianarum). It was used by witches and shamans to bring associations with death. In many cases used to poison and inebriate. In ritual its fumigation was used in order to speak to the dead. Because Henbane has associations with death and the underworld it is a plant of Saturn.
It is most likely that the name Henbane was due to the root word hen- or henne. This can translate to death or murder. Some associate it with the chicken or hen being poisoned by it. I tend to think the former. We cannot say with certainty which is the true or correct origin.
As a weed of the witches, Hyoscyamus niger shares a kinship with Deadly Nightshade (Atropa belladonna). As well as Mandrake (Mandragora officianarum). It is said that Hyoscyamus was the softer side of Lady Nightshade‘s spirit. In Simon Buxton’s The Shamanic Way of the Bee, He is told by his teacher of this dualism:
“Despite usually being found next to each other in text books, henbane and deadly nightshade have very different spirits. Indeed, they are like different places. Henbane is viscid and downy to the fingers, it is the exquisite, clammy emanation of the wasteland and the Sun. It calls you from its exceedingly dark purple center and its pale, clouded, amber-yellow petals, delicately veined with purple brown. Deadly nightshade, on the other hand, is the emanation of evil in dark corners.”
I get this discernment from her as well. Deadly Nightshade has a much darker display. In both appearance and in alkaloids. When I read of intoxication from both plants, I always find belladonna outdoing her sibling in its bite. That is not to say that Henbane couldn’t bring the same harm, but much less does it happen through Henbane than her less forgiving sister Atropa belladonna. Belladonna use by inexperienced thrill seekers is usually accompanied by strong hallucinations and delirious rambling. Many times it will culminate in a trip to the ER with full blown delirium.
I have heard of Henbane being used as an added ingredient to beer and wine. The addition was said to give the brew a powerful potency. It added a real kick to the brew. The beer was called Pilsenkraut. In certain initiation rites from ancient times neophytes were given a drink mixed with Henbane. After which they communed with the lands of the dead and traversed through the underworld. Perhaps this made them more open to receiving the proper guidance and experience.
Henbane gives me the impression of a much brighter side of Lady Nightshade’s spirit. She is much more gentle and easy to work with. More so than her darker, infamous sister, Atropa belladonna. She has no less been an important harbinger of the powerful underworld in which she works. The overtone of working with her seems to be as follows: “Work lightly, don’t overdue it or you will be sorry!”