Monday, January 31, 2011

Hyoscyamus niger - Henbane

Henbane seems to be a rather challenging herb to grow, I will certainly be learning alot this summer on cultivating this facinating herb.

Hyoscyamus niger- Henbane, also known as hog's-bean or black henbane, is in the family Solanaceae to which belong the Potato, Tobacco and Tomato, and Deadly Nightshade.  Its name dates at least to 1265. The origins of the word are unclear but "hen" probably originally meant death rather than referring to chickens.

Henbane is poisonous and should not be ingested. It is poisonous in all its parts, and neither drying nor boiling destroys the toxic principle. The leaves are the most powerful portion, even the odour of them when fresh will produce giddiness and stupor.

Henbane is indigenous to Great Britain and found growing wild in waste places and on rubbish heaps. It also occurs in central and southern Europe and in western Asia extending to India and Siberia, and has long been naturalized in the United States.

Applying flying ointment
As one of the legendary "witch" plants, renowned for its magical qualities and featured in recipes for witches' flying ointment. (It's psychoactive properties include visual hallucinations and a sensation of flight.)

Common effects of henbane ingestion in humans include hallucinations, dilated pupils, restlessness, and flushed skin. Less common symptoms such as tachycardia, convulsions, vomiting, hypertension, hyperpyrexia and ataxia. Nowadays, Henbane is cultivated as a source of alkaloids for the pharmaceutical industry.  Drugs based on henbane alkaloids are applied in modern medicine as painkillers and antispasmodics.

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. 

The medicinal uses of Henbane date from remote ages; it was well known to the Ancients, being particularly commended by Dioscorides (first century A.D.), who used it to procure sleep and allay pains

Henbane is thought to have been the "hebenon" poured into the ear of Hamlet's father

All pretty interesting tidbits, but that's all this information is, a bunch of tidbits of more interesting facts about this plant. I know about these things because I look it up online or in books.  I don't know everything, as I may have stated before, we will be learning these things together. If anyone else is reading this.  I would expect you to be looking  up info for yourself.  If you think of something that you'd like me to think about, drop me a note.  

But remember, don't mess with something that could kill you. 

You might want to forget about messing around with something that might have you writhing in pain on the floor with hard spastic convulsions shaking your body. Imagine green, slimey foam flowing from your mouth, limbs twisting themselves backward, and your groin shriveling into a lump of coal.   Yeah, sounds like a pretty picture don't it?   Even experts make mistakes.  Don't be stupid.

I have personally seen henbane growing at the University of Washington's Medicinal Herb Garden.  I managed to collect some seeds, but honestly, not sure if they are still viable, I've had them for almost two years.  We'll see, I guess. 

If anybody is reading this, I want to give you a project.  Start searching the web for info on medicinal herb gardens, or just plain herb gardens, in your area that will allow you to visit.  When you eventually go to one, (wait till early summer), you should look at the plants carefully, see if you can identify any, touch them, smell them, look closely.  You will get a sense of elation when you realise that you can identify a plant that all others see only as some green thing. Most people can't tell one tree from another, much less a plant or herb. 

Saturday, January 29, 2011

How to discourage garden thieves

Thankfully most gardeners look out for each other.  They all work hard on their gardens, and if you're tending yours on a regular basis, they will appreciate your effort.  You should be at your garden regularly, be friendly with the other gardeners and helpful in keeping the entire area clean and safe for everyone.  You don't need to be there every day, but it helps to be there as much as possible.  Keep the thieves guessing as to when you'll show up. 

If, like me, you will be growing some veggies along with your herbs, you will experience theft.  Don't let it get you down, it happens.  Someone sees that juicy tomato, and *poof,* it's gone.  Aside from putting up a scarecrow that is dressed like a cop, (not a bad idea, actually, a "scarecop"), or mounting hidden cameras, there is not much you can do when some bastard decides to take what is yours.

Sometimes its not even people, as animals will be raiding your garden on a regular basis.  Count on it.  The only thing you can do (if fences are not allowed) is to plant enough for you and the rabbits et al.  (I have even seen dogs helping themselves to broccoli and other tastey greens.)

Some gardens allow you to put up certain types of fencing, they will all have their own guidelines to keep the place looking nice. But if you're not lucky enough to find such a garden, you can avoid being ripped off too much by placing the valued items in the center and surrounding it with taller plants.  Just making it difficult to reach usually discourages petty thefts. 

When you're growing something that people tend to steal, like pumpkins and watermelon, another method, aside from surrounding it, is to make sure it is not readily visable to the casual eye.  This can be easily done by making sure those items are well covered by their own leaves. You'll notice the plant often does this itself, just pay attention to nature and pick up it's tricks.  Squash and melons have really big leaves, use them to your advantage.  Another method to avoid theft is to grow something the average person does not recognize, like Jerusalem artichoke or asparagus pea, or salsify.  If they don't know what it is, they won't take it.


Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Poetic Inspiration

I know this is about trees, but I love trees, and I'd grow them if I had the room. Still, it applies for all plants, I think.

“That I may not fell a single tree without holy need; that I may not step on a blooming field; that I may always plant trees.

The gods look with grace upon those who plant trees along roadsSearch for historic tree, in homesteads, at holy places, at crossroads, and by houses.

If you wed, plant a treeIf a child is born, plant a treeIf someone dies plant a tree for their soul.

At all festivals, during important events, visit treesPrayers will attain holiness through trees of thanks.  So may it be!”

The Want List, revisited

Atropa belladonna- Deadly Nightshade*
Salvia apiana - White Sage*
Mandragora officinarum - Mandrake (black and white)
Artemisia absinthium - Wormwood   
Aconitum napellus- Monkshood aka Wolfsbane
Hyoscyamus niger - Black Henbane
Hierochloe oderata - Sweetgrass
Pogostemon cablin - Patchouli*
Ligusticum poteria- Osha aka Wild Lovage
Papaver somniferum - Opium Poppy
Angelica sinensis - Angelica*
Achillea millefolium - Yarrow*
Digitalis purpurea - Purple Foxglove 
Hyssopus officinalis - Hyssop
Inula helenium - Elecampaneaka Elfwort
Agastache foeniculum- Anise Hyssop
Hyssopus - Hyssop

Lavandula angustifolia - English Lavender*
Solanum dulcamara - Bittersweet Nightshade
Tanacetum parthenium -Feverfew 
Artemisia vulgaris - Mugwort
Cytisus scoparius - Witch's Broom
Pimpinella anisum - Anise *

Myristica fragrans - Nutmeg
Origanum vulgare - Oregano*
Myrtus communisMyrtle
Foeniculum vulgare - Fennel
Smyrnium olustrum - Black Lovage aka Horse Parsley
Marrubium vulgare - White Horehound or Common Horehound
Ballota nigra - Black Horehound