In the Garden
*Also known as Belinuntia, black nightshade, devil’s eye, insane root, and stinking nightshade
Henbane has lance-shaped leaves with wavy edges on stalks that grow up to three feet tall. The brownish-yellow, bell-shaped flowers are marbled with purple veins and have purple centers. The flowers grow at the base of the upper leaves. Although it is often grown as an ornamental plant, henbane has an unpleasant odor and it can be highly toxic if ingested.
Needless to say, don’t grow henbane if you have children. However, it makes a nice addition to a witches’ garden more for historical reasons than practical use. Although it is used medicinally in some circumstances, it is unsafe for home herbal self-medication.
This plant’s common name comes from the Anglo-Saxon hennbana, meaning “hen killer” in reference to the belief that poultry would die after eating the seeds.68 The Celts of Gaul called it Belinuntia, meaning “herb of the sun god Bel.” 69
Even though the Greeks used it medicinally, they knew of its lethal properties and, according to legend, used the leaves to crown their dead. Although the Greeks and Romans used it in remedies, henbane’s hallucinogenic and poisonous properties effected its reputation in later centuries. By the Middle Ages it became associated with witches and sorcerers who were believed to control the weather and conjure spirits with it.
Because of henbane’s association with death, the otherworld, and spirits, you may want to consider drying a stalk of leaves and flowers to place on your altar at Samhain. On November 1, take it outside and burn it in your cauldron.
Henbane is associated with the elements earth and water. Its astrological influence comes from the planet Saturn and the fixed star Ala Corvi. Henbane is associated with the deities Belenus, Hades, Hecate, Jupiter, and the Morrigan.
Figure 21. Henbane is associated with the rune Isa.