Henbane (Hyoscyamus Niger) Identification

Henbane / Spring / Summer / Autumn / Toxic

Henbane Is a poisonous plant in the nightshade family (Solanaceae) it is native to temperate Europe, and naturalised in Great Britain and Ireland. It’s a shrubby biennial that grows up to 1m tall. The whole plant is very hairy, very sticky and produces a horrible smell.

Common Names

Black Henbane and Stinking Nightshade

Botanical Name

Hyoscyamus Niger

Scientific Classification

– Kingdom: Plantae

– Order: Solanales

– Family: Solanaceae

Physical Characteristics of Henbane


The leaves are green, hairy, between 10 and 20 cm long with up to 3 lobes and they have a pointed tip. In the second year they grow in two rows on either side of the stem.

Matt Lavin, CC BY-SA 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


The flowers are 2 to 3 cm across and are creamy-yellow and funnel-shaped with dark purplish centres.

Syrio, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


The fruit looks like  a small green tomato, about 10-20mm in diameter, which will turn black when ripe.

User:Amada44, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons


Henbane often grows around long-inhabited areas and old fortifications. It is sometimes found on waste ground and prefers sandy soils.

It’s quite common in the south and east of England but rare elsewhere.

Known Hazards

All parts of the plant are poisonous.

High doses of henbane can cause delirium, seizures, irregular heartbeat, and a painful death.

Could be Confused with

Celebrity chef Antony Worrall Thompson accidentally recommended henbane as a “tasty addition to salads” in a magazine after mistaking it for Fen Hen, but Henbane looks unlike anything else really, it’s so distinctive, it definitely doesn’t look like Fat Hen.

Edible Uses

This plant is not edible and all parts are toxic to most animals but pigs are immune to the toxicity and are reported to enjoy the effects of the plant.

Notes on Herbal Uses

Henbane has a long and fascinating history but it should not be carelessly.

It contains chemicals, such as hyoscyamine and scopolamine, which may help to relax the muscles lining the digestive tract. The plant is also used to relieve muscle tremors and have a calming effect. If doses are too high, these chemicals can be poisonous.

Historically it was used in combination with other plants, as an anesthetic potion, and for its psychoactive properties in “magic brews”. These psychoactive properties include visual hallucinations and a sensation of flight.

Extra notes from the Foragers

Hamlet’s uncle Claudius poured a henbane tincture of the “cursed hebenon” into Hamlet’s father’s ear to murder him.


More on toxins and herbal uses

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