Hyoscyamus niger / Henbane / Bilzenkruid

Latin Names Hyoscyamus niger Linn. (Solanaceae)

English Names Henbane

Sanskrit Name Parasigaya

Hindi Name Khurasani-ajvayan


Though it is a native of Himalayas, it was probably unknown to ancient Hindu physicians. But, it has found mention in later Sanskrit writing . The plant was well known to Greeks, Persians and Arabians. There were three kinds, white, black and red mentioned in Hyoscyamus of which white was the preferred variety. It was used as a household drug. Dioscorides has mentioned about drug in his literature. It is written about even in 'The Arabian Nights' and in Anglo-Saxon work on medicine. Eastern writers refered to it as intoxicating, narcotic and an anodyne. It was applied to relieve pain related to inflammatory swellings. There was no mental excitement or sensory illusion associated with it except an overpowering tendency to sleep which come on and lasted for 11 hours when taken internally. The records show discrepancies arising from use of Hyoscyamine, the principal alkaloid of the plant, these were attributed to the use of impure or inert samples of the alkaloid.


It is a high altitude plant found in Europe, west and north Asia. In India it is found from 5,000 to 12,000 ft. high in western Himalayas from Kashmir to Garhwal.

Morphology Description (Habit)

It is an erect, annual or biennial, hairy and viscid herb with bad odour. Stem robust and grows up to few meters in high. Radical leaves are smaller, sessile, ovate, pinnatifid and passing in to bracts. Flowers appear from August- September, lower ones are in the forks of the branches, upper solitary in the axis of the leaf like bract, forming insided spikes roller back at the top before flowering, which ultimately forming elongated and straight. Calyx is urn shaped, shortly 5 lobed, limb funnel shaped and in fruit it is elongated. Corolla funnel shaped lobes 5, short, slightly unequal, purple in base, limb lurid green, purple veined and darker in the centre. Stamens are protruding out. Ovary 2 celled. Capsule globose. Seeds are compressed, many and scrobuculate.

Principal Constituents

Hyoscyamine and hyoscine are the principal alkaloids other than cuscohygrine, apohyoscine and belladonnine. Total alkaloid percentage is 0.16% in roots, 0.045-0,08 in leaves and up to 0.1 % in flowering tops, but higher in tetraploid plants. In leaves the % depends on the altitude and the age of the leaf. Mature leaves are richer in hyoscyamine than hyoscine; tender leaves are relatively richer in hyoscine. In roots the alkaloid concentration is higher during the end of the vegetative period. The leaves yeild hyoscypikin in addition to hyoscyamine. Besides alkaloids, it contains volatile base similar to those present in belladonna leaf, a bitter glycoside hyoscypicrin, choline, mucilage and albumin. It is rich in potassium salts. On destructive distillation, the leaves yield a poisonous empyreumatic oil1. Traces of tropine and scopoline are also present. Atropine occurs only in the roots of biennial plants at the end of the vegetative period2.


The therapeutic value of Hyoscyamus is comparable to that of belladonna, which also contains hyoscyamine. The action of Hyoscyamus however, is modified by the presence of a comparatively larger quantity of hyoscine, which produces a central narcotic effect3. If the scopolamine is administered i.p., protected guinea pig against bronchospasm produced by inhalation of histamine spray. It had antihistaminic activity equal to that of atropine but was almost inactive even at high dise against oedema of rat paw injected with kaolin suspension4. Scopolamine HBr had antihistaminic effects in guinea pig5.


The plant, especially the seeds, in large doses, produces poisonous effects similar to those of Datura poisoning, such as dryness of the tongue and mouth, giddiness and delirium. The plant if eaten by livestock affects the yields of milk and butter6.


Hyoscyamus has anodyne, narcotic and mydriatic properties. It is principally employed as a sedative in nervous affections and irritable conditions, such as asthma and whooping cough, and is substituted for opium in cases where the later is inadmissible. It is also used to counteract the griping action of purgatives and to relieve spasms in the urinary tract. In Veterinary practice, it is used as a urinary sedative. Hyoscyamus leaves have been employed externally to relieve pain, but their utility for this purpose is not well established. It has pungent, astringent, diuretic, alterative, antiperiodic and purgative properties. Plant is used in piles, skin eruptions, opthalmia, dysentry eye and liver complaints, rheumatism, scabies, bronchial affections and in leprosy. Leaves useful in gonorrhoea. Roots in cancer, stomach troubles and bladder stones. Seeds are useful in renal dropsy, bronchial affections and in leprosy. Branches and roots useful as tooth brushes. The seeds posses anodyne and narcotic properties but they have been rarely used in medicine. They are employed mainly for the extraction of alkaloids. Mixed with wine, they are applied to gouty enlargements and swellings. Powdered seeds and smoke from burning seeds are applied to relieve toothache. A suppository prepared from seeds is used in painful affections of the uterus. The seeds are also employed in poultices for eye troubles.


  • Thorpe, VI, 203 ; Hocking, loc. cit. ; U.S.D., 1955, 674.

  • Thorpe, VI, 203; Henry, 66; Hocking, loc. cit.; U.S.D., 1955, 675; Chem. Abstr, 1932, 26, 3621.

  • U.S.D., 1955, 675; Allport, 34.

  • Congr. Int. Therap., 6th, Strasbourg 1959, 443; Chem. Abst. 1962, 56, 12258f.

  • Therapie 1960, 15, 326; Chem Abst. 1962, 57, 9176g.

  • Modi, 641.

Henbane (Hyoscyamus niger L.), known as Tianxianzi in China, is a biennial herb indigenous to Europe, Western and Northern Asia, and Northern Africa.

It has been introduced to Eastern Asia, North America, and Australia, and cultivated in several other countries (Gruenwald, Brendler, and Jaenicke, 2004; Spinella, 2001). It is well-known for its traditional use as a hallucinogen. This species grows to a height of 1-2.5 feet (0.3-0.7 m) and has grayish-green leaves, white (or faintly yellow) flowers with purplish veins, and dark gray seeds. The plant has a distinctly unpleasant smell, hence its folk names were Stinking Nightshade and Stinking Roger (Prance and Nesbitt, 2005). In China, the dried seeds are always used for clinic (Pharmacopoeia Committee of P. R. China, 2010). But in some authorized publications, such as British Pharmacopoeia (British Pharmacopoeica Committee, 2010), British Herbal Pharmacopoeia (British Herbal Medicine Association,

1996), and The Complete German Commission E Monographs (Blumenthal et al, 1998), the dried leaves, the flowering tops, and the whole fresh flowering plant of H. niger also have the medicinal use.

In China, it was initially recorded in Shennong Herbs (Shennong Bencao Jing), with the effects of relieving spasm and pain, alleviating asthma, and causing tranquilization (Pharmacopoeia Committee of P. R. China, 2010). Nowadays, it is often used as the main

ingredient in some effective Chinese patent medicines. Based on the ancient Chinese monographs, it is drastically toxic.

Neurochem Res. 2011 Jan;36(1):177-86. doi: 10.1007/s11064-010-0289-x. Epub 2010 Oct 23.

Antiparkinsonian effects of aqueous methanolic extract of Hyoscyamus niger seeds result from its monoamine oxidase inhibitory and hydroxyl radical scavenging potency. Sengupta T1, Vinayagam J, Nagashayana N, Gowda B, Jaisankar P, Mohanakumar KP.

Hyoscyamus species is one of the four plants used in Ayurveda for the treatment of Parkinson's disease (PD). Since Hyoscyamus niger was found to contain negligible levels of L-DOPA, we evaluated neuroprotective potential, if any, of characterized petroleum ether and aqueous methanol extracts of its seeds in 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) model of PD in mice. Air dried authenticated H. niger seeds were sequentially extracted using petroleum ether and aqueous methanol and were characterized employing HPLC-electrochemistry and LCMS. Parkinsonian mice were treated daily twice with the extracts (125-500 mg/kg, p.o.) for two days and motor functions and striatal dopamine levels were assayed. Administration of the aqueous methanol extract (containing 0.03% w/w of L-DOPA), but not petroleum ether extract, significantly attenuated motor disabilities (akinesia, catalepsy and reduced swim score) and striatal dopamine loss in MPTP treated mice. Since the extract caused significant inhibition of monoamine oxidase activity and attenuated 1-methyl-4-phenyl pyridinium (MPP+)-induced hydroxyl radical (·OH) generation in isolated mitochondria, it is possible that the methanolic extract of Hyoscyamus niger seeds protects against parkinsonism in mice by means of its ability to inhibit increased ·OH generated in the mitochondria.

Methods Find Exp Clin Pharmacol. 2008 May;30(4):295-300. doi: 10.1358/mf.2008.30.4.1186075.

Cardiovascular inhibitory effects of Hyoscyamus niger. Khan AU1, Gilani AH.

This study describes the hypotensive, cardiosuppressant and vasodilator activities of Hyoscyamus niger crude extract (Hn.Cr). Hn.Cr, which tested positive for alkaloids, coumarins, flavonoids, sterols, tannins and terpenes, caused a dose-dependent (10-100 mg/kg) fall in the arterial blood pressure (BP) of rats under anesthesia. In guinea-pig atria, Hn.Cr exhibited a cardiodepressant effect on the rate and force of spontaneous atrial contractions. In isolated rabbit aorta, Hn.Cr (0.01-1.0 mg/ml) relaxed the phenylephrine (PE, 1 microM) and K(+) (80 mM)-induced contractions and suppressed PE (1 microM) control peaks obtained in Ca(++)-free medium similar to that caused by verapamil. The vasodilator effect of Hn.Cr was endothelium-independent as it was not opposed by N (omega)-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester in endothelium-intact rat aortic preparations and also occurred at a similar concentration in endothelium-denuded tissues. These data indicate that Hyoscyamus niger lowers BP through a Ca(++)-antagonist mechanism.