BY W. DYMOCK.
Henbane, though a native of the Himalayas, was probably unknown as a medicine to the ancient Hindu physicians. "Parasika-yamani" and "khorasam-yamani," the names which it bears in some recent Hindu books, indicate its foreign source. Mahometan writers call it "banj," an Arabic corruption of the Persian "bang." They say it is the "afeekoon" of the Greeks, the "azmalus" of the Syrians, and the "katfeet" or "iskeeras" of the Moors. They also add that in the Deilami dialect it is called "keer-chak," because the capsules resemble a little basket with a cover, such as the Arabs make out of date leaves and call "kafeer." Meer Muhammed Husain's description of "banj" in the "Makhzan-ul-adwiya" agrees well with the genus Hyoscyamus. He says there are three kinds, white, black and red, and that the white is to be preferred. He mentions the preparation of a sun-dried extract from the juice of the fresh leaves, and says that the leaves are also pounded and made into a paste with flour, out of which small cakes are formed, which when dry retain their medicinal properties for some time.
Henbane is described by eastern writers on materia medica as intoxicating, narcotic and anodyne. Amongst the many uses to which it is put the following may be mentioned as peculiar to the East: A poultice of the juice with barley flour is used to relieve the pain of inflammatory swellings; the seeds in wine are applied to gouty enlargements, inflamed breasts and swelled testicles. About ½ drachm of the seeds with 1 drachm of poppy seeds are made into a mixture with honey and water and given as an anodyne in cough, gout, etc. Equal parts of the seed and opium are used as a powerful narcotic. A mixture of the powdered seeds with pitch is used to stop hollow teeth which are painful, and also as a pessary in painful affections of the uterus. The juice or a strong infusion of the seeds is dropped into the eye to relieve pain. Ainslie and other European writers upon Indian materia medica notice the use of hyoscyamus seeds in India and attribute them to H. niger, but I have not heard of anyone who has raised this plant from the bazaar seed. In the "Mufaridat-i-Nasari" it is distinctly stated that the officinal article should be the seed of white henbane (bazr-ul-banj-abiad).
Henbane seed is the only part of the plant used in native practice in India; it is known in Hindostan as "khorasani ajwain," in Bombay as "khorasain owa," and in Madras as "khorasain omam."
For the purpose of supplying government hospitals with extract and leaves the Hyoscyamus niger has been cultivated at Saharunpore in the Bengal presidency, at Hoonsoor in Mysore and at Hewra, near Poonah in the Deccan. The quantity grown is limited to the requirements of goverment. It is a cold weather crop. If sown in October, the plants will produce ripe seed in March, or even earlier. As regards medicinal qualities, the experience of medical men in India is that the plant cultivated for government yields preparations in every respect equal to those obtained from Europe. Dr. O'Shaughnessy found that 3 grains of the sun-dried extract produced marked soporific and anodyne effects.
At present henbane leaves are not an article of commerce in India, but the superintendents of the government gardens are, I believe, allowed to grow any profitable crops of medicinal plants for sale. The price charged by the Hewra gardens to the medical department this year for dried leaves is Rs 1.5 per lb., and for extract Rs 4 per lb.
The price of the imported seed in the Bombay market is usually Rs 7 per maund of 37.5 lbs.—Phar. Jour. and Trans., Nov. 6, 1880.