This section is from the book "A Guide To The Poisonous Plants And Weed Seeds Of Canada And The Northern United States", by Robert Boyd Thomson, H. B. Sifton. Also available from Amazon: A guide to the poisonous plants and weed seeds of Canada and the northern United States.
Other Common Names: American White Hellebore, Swamp Hellebore, Indian Poke, Devil's-bite, Meadow Poke.
A European species of Veratrum is used as a drug, and the American forms contain the same alkaloids. Most cases of Veratrum poisoning are due to overdoses in medicine, but both men and animals have been poisoned accidentally by the plants. One historic case has been quoted many times in which a whole family was poisoned by leaves that had been prepared as greens. Chesnut states that on account of its acrid, burning taste, animals do not like the plant, but that young ones sometimes eat it with fatal results, and that chickens have been killed by the seeds.
Veratrin, the chief poison, produces an intense burning of the throat, and acts chiefly on the heart and spinal cord, but produces also vomiting, purging and abdominal pain. The symptoms as stated by Dr. Winslow are: "Salivation, vomiting or attempts at vomiting, purging, abdominal pain, muscular weakness, difficulty in progression, loss of power and general paralysis, muscular tremors and spasms, and, occasionally, convulsions. The pulse is unaltered at first, but later becomes infrequent and compressible, and finally thread-like and running. The respiration is shallow, the temperature is reduced, the skin is cold and clammy; there is semi-consciousness, loss of sight and death from asphyxia."
Examples and Conditions of Poisoning
Fig. 8. - False Hellebore - Veratrum viride.
"Treatment," he says, "should be pursued with cardiac and respiratory stimulants, such as amyl nitrate (by inhalation), alcohol, strychnin, and atropin; tannic acid as a chemical antidote*; opium to subdue pain, and demulcents to relieve local irritation in the digestive tract. Warm water should be given to smaller animals to wash out the stomach and assist vomi-tion, and quietude should be enforced. In man, fatal poisoning is rare, since the drug is spontaneously vomited." The plant is a coarse perennial from two to eight feet tall. The leafy stem grows from a thick erect rootstock. The large leaves are entire and oval in shape with conspicuous parallel veins. They have sheathing bases, are smooth on top, hairy beneath and sharply pointed at the tip. The flowers are small and of the liliaceous type, yellowish green and with the parts moderately spreading. They are arranged in a broad panicle of spike-like racemes. The plant is found on moist hillsides, in swamps and wet woods, chiefly in the eastern half of the continent.