Hyoscyamus aureus, Golden Henbane,
שיכרון זהוב

Scientific name:  Hyoscyamus aureus L.
Scientific name:  Hyoscyamus varians Vis., Hyoscyamus major Mill., Hyoscyamus aureus sensu Gouan, non L.
Common name:  Golden Henbane
Hebrew name:   שיכרון זהוב
Family:  Solanaceae, סולניים

Wild flowers, Israel, send flowers
Location: Jerusalem, Western Wall

Life form:  Chamaephyte
Stems:  Decumbent stems 50cm
Leaves:  Alternate, entire, dentate or serrate
Flowers:  Bright yellow corolla, with deep purple throat
Fruits / pods:  Capsules, up to 13mm long, dehiscent by an operculum slightly distal to middle; seeds reniform or discoid, minutely pitted
Flowering Period:  March, April, May, June
Habitat:  : Cliffs, old walls and ruins to 1200m
Distribution:  Mediterranean Woodlands and Shrublands, Semi-steppe shrublands, Shrub-steppes, Deserts and extreme deserts, Montane vegetation of Mt. Hermon
Chorotype:  Med - Irano-Turanian
Summer shedding:  Perenating

Hyoscyamus aureus, Golden Henbane, שיכרון זהוב
Location: Jerusalem, Western Wall


Derivation of the botanical name:
Hyoscyamus, Hyoskyamos, from the Greek hys, hyos, "pig" and kyamos "bean", allegedly, because pigs can eat the herb without damage.
aureus, golden yellow.
  • The standard author abbreviation L. is used to indicate Carl Linnaeus (1707 – 1778), a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist, the father of modern taxonomy.
  • The standard author abbreviation Vis. is used to indicate Roberto de Visiani (1800 - 1878), , an Italian botanist.
  • The standard author abbreviation Mill. is used to indicate Philip Miller (1691 – 1771), a Scottish botanist.
  • The standard author abbreviation sensu Gouan, non L. is used to indicate Antoine Gouan (1733 – 1821),a French naturalist who was a native of Montpellier. Gouan was a pioneer of Linnaean taxonomy in France.

In the ancient times it was called also Apollinaris after Apollo, the God of the fortune-telling.
In Israel there are five species of Henbane and the most common one is Hyoscyamus aureus, which we can find in the Western Wall. (see: Western Wall Flowers)
It is only mentioned in one place in the Bible (Joshua 15:11), in conjunction with the biblical place-name Shikrona in Judea. Shikrona is the Hebrew word for Henbane.

The head-dress of the Jewish High Priests' was modeled upon the capsule of the Hyoscyamus and
Josephus Flavius was the earliest, who described it (Antiquities, Book III, 7:6):
"The high priest's mitre was the same that we described before, and was wrought like that of all the other priests; above which there was another, with swathes of blue embroidered, and round it was a golden crown polished, of three rows, one above another; out of which arose a cup of gold, which resembled the herb which we call Saccharus; but those Greeks that are skillful in botany call it Hyoscyamus.
Now, lest any one that has seen this herb, but has not been taught its name, and is unacquainted with its nature, or, having known its name, knows not the herb when he sees it, I shall give such ,as these are a description of it.
This herb is oftentimes in tallness above three spans, but its root is like that of a turnip (for he that should compare it thereto would not be mistaken); but its leaves are like the leaves of mint.
Out of its branches it sends out a calyx, cleaving. to the branch; and a coat encompasses it, which it naturally puts off when it is changing, in order to produce its fruit. This calyx is of the bigness of the bone of the little finger, but in the compass of its aperture is like a cup".
This I will farther describe for the use of those that are unacquainted with it. Suppose a sphere be divided into two parts, round at the bottom, but having another segment that grows up to a circumference from that bottom: Suppose it become narrower by degrees, and that the cavity of that part grow decently smaller, and then gradually grow wider again at the brim, such as we see in the navel of a pomegranate, with its notches. And indeed such a coat grows over this plant as renders it a hemisphere, and that as one may say, turned accurately in a lathe, and having its notches extant above it, which, as I said, grow like a pomegranate, only that they are sharp, and end in nothing but prickles. Now the fruit is preserved by this coat of the calyx, which fruit is like the seed of the herb sideritis: It sends out a flower that may seem to resemble that of the poppy. Of this was a crown made, as far from the hinder part of the head to each of the temples; but this ephielis, for so this calyx may be called, did not cover the forehead, but it was covered with a golden plate, (14) which had inscribed upon it the name of God in sacred characters. And such were the ornaments of the high priest.

Hyoscyamus contains hyoscyamine, used since antiquity as both a sedative and a love potion.
The ancient Egyptians smoked henbane for their dental problems.
Pedanus Dioscorides (ca. 40-ca. 90 CE.) used it to procure sleep and allay pains.
Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) writes that all kinds of Hyoscyamus cause insanity and giddiness.
In the Middle Ages the drug was the most frequently used anaesthetic for operational interferences.
The drug played a certain role as murder poison, as William Shakespeare (1564-1616), in its “Hamlet” reports on the murder at the Dane king:

'Sleeping within mine orchard,
My custom always of the afternoon
Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of mine ear did pour
The leprous distillment.'

It is the common opinion that henbane is the infamous "juice of cursed hebenon" poison that killed King Claudius in Shakespeare's Hamlet.

Bible resources:
  1. Joshua 15: 11
    It went to the northern slope of Ekron, turned toward Shikkeron, passed along to Mount Baalah and reached Jabneel. The boundary ended at the sea".

Hyoscyamus aureus, Golden Henbane, שיכרון זהוב
Location: Jerusalem, Western Wall


Hyoscyamus aureus, Golden Henbane, שיכרון זהוב
Location: Jerusalem, Western Wall