White Hellebore: Veratrum album

Veratrum album, White helleborene
The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

White Hellebore
Veratrum album [ Plantae: Angiosperms: Monocots: Liliales: Melanthiaceae: Veratrum: Veratrum album ]

Common Names: Bearsfoot, stinking hellebore, sabadilla, European Hellebore, Weisse Niesswurz, False Helleborine, White Veratrum

White Hellebore is common throughout Europe, Lapland to Italy but does not occur in the British Isles; also found in Eurasia, the Alps, the Pyrenees, Russia, East Asia, Siberia, Northern China, Japan, and Northern Africa.

Helleborus orientalis (used for indigestion and diarrhea); Veratrum Californicum is a species found in Colorado and the Western U.S>;

White Hellebore is a perennial herb that grows up to 3.5 to 5 feet high with a blackish or brownish-white fleshy oblong horizontal rhizome that is as thick as a finger, which when fresh has an alliaceous odor but loses its smell fast as it drys. It is whitish or pale yellow white internally. Stem is straight, round, and striated that sprouts alternate plaited and broad-ovate leaves that blossom yellowish-white hermaphrodite flowers that have 8 lines in diameter and five large petal like sepals with 8-10 inconspicuous tubular petals with many stamens 3-10 pistils.

Grows in moist grassy sub-alpine meadows and open woodlands.

Common Uses:
White Helloebore is primarily used for veterinary medicine. It was first used as a pesticide in Rome and Greece. It is used externally to kill lice. It was one of the four classic poisons in the classical world.

Culinary Uses:
The rhizome is sweet tasting at first, then biter and acrid leaving the tongue tingly and numb.

Medicinal Uses:
White Hellebore is extremely poisonous as a violent irritant and is one of the principal poisons used in European history for arrows and daggers. The parts of the plant used are primarily the root and rhizome. When powdered it is ash-colored and deteriorates the longer you keep it. It contains jervine, pseudo-jervine, rubijervine, veratralbine, and veratrine. It has fatty matter composed of olein, sterin, and volatile acids. If sniffed it causes profuse runny nose, when swallowed it causes sore mouth, swelling of the tongue, gastric heat, burning, severe vomiting and profuse diarrhea. It produces narcotic symptoms, stupor, and convulsions. This leads to vertigo, weakness, tremors, feeble pulse, loss of voice, dilation of pupils, spasms of the ocular muscles, blindness, cold sweating, and mental disturbances. Poisoning is treated by injections of coffee, opiates, and demulcents. In minor doses it is efficient on bowel disorders and/or gushing watery diarrhea with spasmodic or cramp-like actions on the intestines and is why its often used to treat cholera infantum, cholera morbus, and asiatic cholera. Originally used in cerebral affections such as mania, epilepsy, gout, and sometimes as a substitute for colchicum. It was on occasion used as an ointment for skin diseases such as scabies or to kill lice. It was also used as an errhine or sternutatory when diluted with starch for treating amaurosis and chronic affections of the brain. It has a paralyzing effect on the nervous system though scarcely used internally even though its alkaloids are used in the pharmaceudical industry. It contains the amorphous alkaloid Veratralbine (C26H43N05) and the three crystallize alkaloids ervine (C26H37NO3), pseudo-Jervine (C29H43NO7), and Rubijervive (C26H43NO3). Today it is primarily used to kill lice and cure scabies as many of its other applications are too risky. Historically though used to treate toothaches, epistaxis, brochial and respiratory affections, asthma, pneumonia, whooping cough, gastric disorders, cholera, colic, constipation, diarrhea, pregnancy disorders, sciatica, hernia, inflammation of the uterus, influenza, typhoid fever, yellow fever, measles, scarlatina, tapeworm, meningitis, epilepsy, opium poisoning, lock jaw, collapse, fainting, angina pecoris, and apoplexy.

Magical Uses:

Folklore and History: It is in the family of four classic deadly poisons used throughout history along with deadly nightshade, hemlock, and aconite. Its name “Hellebore” comes from the Greek “Elein” which means “to injure” and “bora” meaning “food”. Its use dates back to 1400 BCE when it was used as a pergative to cleanse the mind of all perverse habits .

Veratrum album, White helleborene
The Poison Garden, Blarney Castle, Ireland

White Hellebore from the The Blarney Poison Garden at the
Blarney Castle, Cork, Ireland

© 2010-2014 ~ Article by Thomas Baurley, Technogypsie Productions, Originally published in 2010 with revisions through the years. All Rights Reserved.

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