A few weeks ago I attended a seminar in Glasgow taught by Keith Robertson, from the famous former Scottish School of Herbal Medicine, and now of Drimlabarra Vegan Herb Farm on the Isle of Arran. The seminar was about the use of Schedule III herbs – Schedule III is just a legal term for a class of medicinal plants which only practitioners are allowed to use. They are plants which can be toxic if used in too high a dose, but are highly beneficial and powerful remedies if used at the right dose. They include herbs like Deadly Nightshade, Datura, Henbane, Lily of the Valley, Winter Jasmine, Lobelia and Ephedra.
In the UK we are greatly privileged to be allowed to use these herbs, under legally controlled maximum doses. During the session we tasted each herb and shared our experiences of it. From only one drop on the tongue our group was able to feel the effects of each herb. My favourite was Henbane – Hyoscyamus niger.
Henbane is an incredibly beautiful and bewitching plant from the Solanaceae (potato family). It has a lot of traditional associations with mysticism and witchcraft, as a plant with significant hallucinogenic qualities. Just smelling the flowers can produce giddiness, and those who have used the plant as a psychotropic refer to it as giving the sensation of flying. Medicinally it has pain relieving and relaxing qualities and was an important ingredient of the ‘soporific sponge’ used as an anaesthetic during surgery before modern medicine. A 12th Century recipe quotes a formula of opium, henbane, hemlock, mulberry juice, mandrake, ivy and wild lettuce.
In today’s medicine, it is a specific herb for spasmodic pain of the urinary tract, and for the tremors and rigidity of early stage Parkinson’s disease.