Alexis was the author of today’s entry:
Hyoscyamus niger, better known as henbane, black henbane or stinking nightshade, belongs to the nightshade family. Originally from Europe, North Africa, and western Asia, this species was introduced to North America in the 17th century for ornamental and medicinal purposes. It is now considered a weed in some places, e.g., Nevada (PDF), and has spread throughout much of Canada and the USA.
Henbane is poisonous to people and animals; luckily, many tend to avoid it because it is sticky to the touch and gives off an unpleasant odour. Symptoms of henbane poisoning can include tachycardia, blurred vision, delirium and confusion (Lampe’s 1985 AMA Handbook of Poisonous and Injurious Plants). Several recorded cases of people, especially children and youths, consuming henbane have resulted in death or hospitalization (Frohne and Pfander’s Poisonous Plants (2005)). Despite its harmful potential, Hyoscyamus niger has been used as a painkiller in folk medicine, and also as a hallucinogen (Allen and Hatfield’s Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition (2004)).
You may recognize this species from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, in which King Hamlet is murdered by a distillation of henbane being poured into his ear (see: Kotsias, BA. 2002. Scopolamine and the Murder of King Hamlet . Arch Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 128:847-849).