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In the Middle Ages, henbane was widely used in Germany to augment the inebriating qualities of beer. The names of many German towns originate from the word Bilsen--henbane. Later on, the word was transformed to Pilsen to name the famous Pilsen beer. It took many years to prohibit the use of henbane in brewing after numerous cases of poisonings.
Henbane was much used as a medicine in former times. Mrs Grieve reports that it was so widely used even fairly recently that it was deliberately grown for the medicinal market because collection from the wild could not meet the demand. The active ingredients are extracted from the leaves and flowering tops, both collected during the flowering period, and occasionally from the fruits. The ancient Greeks believed that people under the influence of the herb became prophetic, and the priestesses of the Oracle of Delphi are claimed to have inhaled the smoke from smouldering henbane.
All parts of the plant are highly toxic, the leaves being the most poisonous part of the plant - so much so that there mere smell of the fresh leaves has been found to cause giddiness and stupor in some people. The -bane part refers to an archaic Old English word for death, so the name as a whole refers to a belief that poultry, most notably hens, were particularly vulnerable to the effects of eating its seeds. (Digital collage & description created & copyright �
by Ziva. All rights reserved.)
June 7th, 2011
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