White Hellebore

(Veratrum album) No relation to the true hellebore, but still highly poisonous to man and cattle, producing among other symptoms a fall in blood pressure (the tincture is used medicinally to treat hypertension (Schauenberg & Paris)). The powdered rhizome sprinkled on currant and gooseberry bushes protects them against insect pests; apparently the powder loses its toxic quality after three or four days, so it is safe to apply to ripening fruit (M Baker. 1977).

Medicinally speaking, this is an emetic, and drastic purgative, rarely used internally (Fluckiger & Hanbury). Gerard spoke of "this strong medicine ... ought not to be given inwardly into delicate bodies without great correction, but it may be more safely given unto countrey people which feed grossly, and have had tough and strong bodies". Lindley, though, seemed to be recommending it for a variety of ills, "melancholia, mania, epilepsy, herpes, gout, chronic affections of the brain ...". It was occasionally used in the form of an ointment to treat scabies (Fluckiger & Hanbury). "The itch . mix Powder of white Hellebore with Cream for three days ... It seldom fails" (Wesley). Gerard had already quoted Pliny, "that it is a medicine against the Lowsie evill". They were quite right - the powder is highly toxic to fleas and lice (Flück). In Russian folk medicine, it is said that the infusion would stop hiccuping immediately (Kourennoff). Of course, the doses would have to be very small.

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