Hyoscyamus; Hyoscyami; Henbane; Hyoscyamus niger
HENBANE is a very old article of the Materia Medica, being ascertained to have been the 'Voaxvapos of Dioscorides, by whom it was much used inwanlly and outwardly as an anodine. It was long nearly lost sight of in modern medicine, until Storck recommended it along with other narcotic vegetables in 1762.
Natural History.—Several species of Hyoscyamus possess analogous properties; but the best known, most abundant, and only officinal species is the Hyoscyamus niger. It belongs to Linnaeus' class and order Pentandria Monogynia, and to.the Natural family Solanaceae. It is generally biennial, but an annual variety is cultivated by the herb-gardeners at Micham near London. The biennial variety grows on roadsides and uncultivated hill-slopes in this island, and most continental countries of Europe ; and it is also cultivated for the druggist. It throws out root-leaves only during its first summer, and in the subsequent spring pushes up a shrubby, hairy, viscous stem, from a foot and a half to four feet high. The plant is then covered with large, pale green, very sinuous, hairy, somewhat viscous leaves, and bears several flowering branches, which produce in succession from June to August many axillary, dingy-yellow flowers, intricately crossed by purple reticulations. The capsule is bilocular, and contains numerous rough, pale-grayish-brown, slightly flattened, ovate or reniform seeds, rather less than those of the poppy. The root is spindle-shaped, somewhat woody, but amylaceous, white and plump. The fresh herb has a peculiar unpleasant odour, and a mawkish taste. The chief of-ficinal part is the leaves. The London Col-lege (and-U.S. Pharm.) adds also the seeds, but, perhaps, unnecessarily; for, though stronger than the leaves, it is troublesome to collect them in large quantity. The seeds ripen from August to October. It is almost universally recommended to gather the leaves only from wild plants, and their su-perior activity is stated to have been ascertained in Germany (Merat); but from experiments made some years ago at the Royal Infirmary here, the inferiority of cultivated plants, if it exists at all, seems not appreciable in practice. A difference of opinion prevails as to the proper period for collecting the leaves.
It has been alleged, that those of the first year are inert, that stem leaves only should be used, and that they should be collected at the beginning of inflorescence (Houlton) or just before it (Duncan) ; but I have found them sufficiently active even in the spring, before the appearance of the flowering stem. The annual variety pushes up its flowering stem at once in the month of May, and flowers nearly at the same time with the biennial variety. Their relative activity has not been ascertained. The annual plant has been thought to be comparatively feeble in energy. But Dr. Royle found it active, as grown in India. The two varieties are used indiscriminately by many London druggists for making the officinal extract.—Henbane-leaves should be dried for preservation without artificial heat (Houlton), or in a hot-air-press not above 120° in temperature. They are in good preservation, if they retain in some measure their peculiar odour, and possess a mawkish, obscurely bitter taste. The druggist's store of them ought to be renewed every year.