Another day of brilliant sunshine and high temperatures. Perfect for lying in the garden, but unfortunately I was out surveying again! The work went well and I was delighted to spot a grizzled skipper, the first time we've ever recorded one from this particular site. There were also a few wall browns around, but they were all flying too fast to be photographed.
However, for me, the highlight of the day was finding two magnificent plants of henbane Hyoscyamus niger. There's been a lot of earth-moving on the site recently, and I suspect it exposed some buried seed of this species, which are known to survive for a very long time in the soil. It tends to grow on disturbed ground and in sandy coastal areas, usually where the soils are calcareous. However, it's a species that has suffered as a result of the modern trend for tidiness and it is now included in the British Red Data Book as Vulnerable, because of the rapid decline in the number of sites.
Henbane is a poisonous plant, which means that farmers often ruthlessly remove it from their land. All parts of henbane are poisonous. They contain the same alkaloids that deadly nightshade (belladonna) does, namely: hyoscine, hyoscyamine, atropine, and scopolamine. The poisoning effect of the plant rarely leads to death. In most cases, it causes a clinical condition, characterized by insanity, violence, seizures and trembling limbs.
In the Middle Ages, henbane was widely used in Germany to augment the inebriating qualities of beer. The names of many German towns originate from the word Bilsen - henbane. Later on, the word was transformed to Pilsen to name the famous Pilsen beer. It took many years to prohibit the use of henbane in brewing after numerous cases of poisonings. In the 13th and 14th centuries, it was revealed that the so-called witches had narcotized themselves by a special salve containing extracts of belladonna and henbane. If it was spread onto the skin, it caused vivid hallucinations of flying in the air, wild dancing and abundant feasts. Nowadays, henbane is cultivated as a source of alkaloids for the pharmaceutical industry. Drugs based on henbane alkaloids are applied in modern medicine as painkillers and antispasmodics.
I struggled to choose my seventh track. My three teenage sons have introduced me to a lot of new music, particularly Alex who is rarely seen without headphones in his ears, and has a wide-ranging knowledge of many genres of music. I think I've discovered more bands in the last five years than ever before, partly thanks to the internet, which makes it so much easier and cheaper to listen to an eclectic mix. In the end (partly because of the henbane) I've opted for Toxicity by System of a Down, a Southern Californian rock band, whose members are of Armenian descent. Elements of Middle Eastern music can be heard in many of their songs, and the lyrics are often abstract and surreal, as in this case. This is another sing-along tune in our house, with some amazing drumming and guitar work - but I can imagine it won't be to everyone's taste!