Henbane as apothecary ingredient

Hyoscyamus niger, or Henbane, is a plant with all parts used medicinally for their multiple effects: sedative, psychoactive, antineuralgic, antispasmodic, anesthetic, and soporific. Though recommended against nervous agitation and various types of pain, the plant is toxic in high doses. Its pharmaceutical use was similar to that of opium, though it was weaker and did not cause constipation.

Henbane has a long history of use. The earliest was probably during the Neolithic, in magic fumigations and drinks that caused visual hallucinations and a sensation of flight. It is mentioned by Discorides, in his list of Dacian plants. Pliny the Elder talks of Herba Apollinaris, that some have equated with Henbane: the ancient Greeks believed that god Apollo himself discovered the plant and offered it to Aesculapius; it was also consumed by the priestesses of Apollo in his temple at Delphi in order to enter into a trance and prophesize.

In the old pharmacopoeias and natural medicine, the plant is recommended in various afflictions, among which tooth aches, when leaves or seeds of Henbane were fumigated into the patient’s mouth or turned into a concoction that he/she held in the oral cavity. It was also used in ophthalmology, since it dilates the pupils and contains atropine.

The History of Pharmacy Collection in Cluj-Napoca, Transylvania, includes eight jars, dated to the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for the preservation of various products made of Henbane: extracts, seeds, oil. The jars (made of wood, glass, porcelain, glazed pottery) have been used in pharmacies from Cluj-Npoca, Turda, Baia Mare, and Ia┼či.

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