Black Hellebore

Helleborus niger - L.

Medicinal Uses

Anthelmintic; Cardiac; Cathartic; Diuretic; Emetic; Emmenagogue; Homeopathy; Irritant; Narcotic; Purgative.

Black hellebore is a very poisonous plant that is toxic when taken in all but the smallest doses. The medicinal dose is very close to the lethal dose.

The plant contains cardiac glycosides which have a similar action to the foxglove (Digitalis purpurea) and it has been used as a heart stimulant for the elderly. The root is anthelmintic, cardiac, cathartic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, irritant, violently narcotic and a drastic purgative. It is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. It has been used in the treatment of dropsy, amenorrhoea, nervous disorders and hysteria, but it is very poisonous and great care must be taken over the dosage. The root is also applied externally as a local irritant, but even this should be done with care. A homeopathic remedy is made from the roots. It is used in the treatment of headaches, psychic disorders, enteritis and spasms.

Other Uses

Ground cover; Miscellany; Parasiticide.

Used as a parasiticide against body lice, fleas etc. This use is somewhat dangerous. The powdered root has been used as a snuff. Plants are suitable for ground cover when spaced about 45cm apart each way.

Cultivation details

Cultivation of this plant is not always easy, it prefers a rich limy soil in partial shade. Succeeds in any good garden soil, growing and flowering best in a moist well-drained rich loam in a sheltered position in partial shade. Grows well in heavy clay soils. Dislikes drought. Slugs are very fond of this plant and it will probably require some protection from them. Plants resent root disturbance and are slow to re-establish when divided. They are best left undisturbed for 6 - 7 years before being divided. Seedling plants should be placed in their permanent positions whilst still small. A greedy plant, inhibiting the growth of nearby plants, especially legumes.

Propagation

Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Sow stored seed as early in the year as possible, it usually germinates in the autumn to spring. Seed can take 18 months to germinate. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. This species produces flowering plants in 2 - 3 years from seed. Division after flowering or in autumn. Take care since the plant resents root disturbance.

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