This section of the book is from "The Complete Herbalist" by Dr. O. Phelps Brown. Also available from Amazon: The Complete Herbalist: The People Their Own Physicians By The Use Of Nature's Remedies.
COMMON NAMES. Swamp Hellebore, Indian Poke, Itch-weed.
MEDICINAL PART. The rhizome.
Description. -- This plant has a perennial, thick, and fleshy rhizome, tunicated at the upper part, sending off a multitude of large whitish roots. The stem is from three to five feet high; lower leaves from six inches to a foot long, oval, acuminate; upper leaves gradually narrower, linear, lanceolate, and all alternate. The flowers are numerous and green, part of them barren.
History. -- American Hellebore is native to the United States, growing in swamps, low grounds, and moist meadows, blossoming in June and July. The roots should be gathered in autumn, and as it rapidly loses its virtues, it should be gathered annually and kept in well-closed vessels. When fresh, it has a very strong unpleasant odor, but when dried is inodorous. It has a sweetish-bitter taste, succeeded by a persistent acridity.
Properties and Uses. -- It has many very valuable properties. It is slightly acrid, confining this action to the mouth and fauces. It is unsurpassed by any article as an expectorant. As a diaphoretic, it is one of the most certain of the whole material medica, often exciting great coolness and coldness of the surface. In suitable doses it can be relied upon to bring the pulse down from a hundred and fifty beats in a minute to forty, or even to thirty. Sometimes it renders the skin merely soft and moist, and at others produces free and abundant perspiration. In fevers, in some diseases of the heart, acute rheumatism, and in many other conditions which involve an excited state of the circulation, it is of exceeding great value. As a deobstruent or alterative, it far surpasses iodine, and therefore used with great advantage in the treatment of cancer, scrofula, and consumption. It is nervine, and never narcotic which property renders it of great value in all painful diseases, or such as are accompanied with spasmodic action, convulsions, morbid irritability and irritative mobility, as in chorea, epilepsy or fits, pneumonia, puerperal fever, neuralgia, etc., producing these effects without stupefying and torpifying the system, as opium is known to do. As an emetic , it is slow, but certain and efficient, rousing the liver to action, and vomits without occasioning prostration or exhaustion like other emetics, being the more valuable in not being cathartic. It is peculiarly adapted as an emetic in whooping-cough, croup, asthma, scarlet fever, and in all cases where there is much febrile or inflammatory action. As an arterial sedative it stands unparalleled and unequalled, while in small doses it creates and promotes appetite beyond any agent known to medical men. It has recently come into use, and may be justly regarded as one of the most valuble contributions to the list of medicines in a hundred years.
Dose. -- Veratrum is usually given in the form of a tincture, the formula being of the dried root, eight ounces to sixteen ounces diluted .835 alcohol, macerating for two weeks, then to be expressed and filtered. To an adult eight drops are given, which should be repeated every three hours, increasing the dose one or two drops every time until nausea or vomiting, or reduction of the pulse to sixty-five or seventy, ensue, then reduce to one-half in all cases. Females and persons from fourteen to eighteen should commence with six drops and increase as above. For children, from two to five years, begin with two drops, and increase one drop only. Below two years of age, one drop is sufficient. If taken in so large a dose as to produce vomiting or too much depression, a full dose of morphine or opium, in a little brandy or ginger, is a complete antidote. In pneumonia, typhoid fever, and many other diseases, it must be continued from three to seven days after the symptoms have subsided. In typhoid fever, while using the veratrum, quinia is absolutely inadmissible. It is administered in a little sweetened water, and its employment in moderate doses, or short of nausea, may be continued indefinitely without the least inconvenience.
The HELLEBORUS NIGER, Black Hellebore, inhabiting the subalpine and southern parts of Europe, was formerly much used in palsy, insanity, apoplexy, dropsy, epilepsy, etc., but is now more or less discarded. It has diuretic and emmenagogue properties, but as it is very toxical in effects, its use is not to be advised in domestic practice.