This section is from the book "An Experimental History Of The Materia Medica", by William Lewis.
Helleborus Niger Pharm. Lond. & Linn. Melampodium & Helleborus niger Pharm. Edinb. Helleborus niger flore rofeo C. B. Black Hellebore: a low plant, without any other stalk than the pedicles of the leaves and flowers, which are pretty thick, and generally streaked with red or purple: the leaf is divided, quite to the pedicle, into six, seven, or more, smooth firm segments resembling bay-leaves, indented from about the middle to the extremity; the flower is large, naked, pentapeta-lous, of a pale rose colour, with numerous stamina in the middle, which are followed by five or six pods full of shining blackish seeds, the petala continuing, and changing greenish: the root consists of numerous fibres, hanging generally from a knotty head, externally of a black colour, internally white. It is perennial, grows wild in the mountainous parts of Germany, and flowers in our gardens in January.
Tinctura veratri Ph. Ed.
Decott. hel-lebori Ph. Lond.
Unguent, hellebori albi Ph. Lond.
Black hellebore root, in doses of from ten grains to half a dram, proves a very strong, though not very violent cathartic. The hellebore of the ancients, which was never ventured on without extreme caution and as a last re-source, appears to have been a different species from ours, much larger and of more violent operation, called by Tournefort helleborus niger orientalis, amplissimo folio, caule praelto, flore purpurascente, which is still said to be found in plenty about mount Olympus, and in the island of Anticyra, celebrated of old for the production of this reputed antimaniacal drug. In the sre-fent practice, this root or its preparations are used sometimes as a purgative in cases where the stronger cathartics are required; but osener in small doses as an attenuant and deobstruent. It is found particularly serviceable against ob-stinate suppressions of the menstrual purgations, in plethoric habits and sanguine constitutions, where chalybeates are ineffectual or injurious.
The taste of this root is bitter and pungent: chewed for a few minutes, it seems to benumb the tongue. The fibres are stronger in taste, and medicinally more active, than the tuberous head; and the cortical part of this, than the internal. It is said to prove purgative when, applied only externally, in somentations, to the belly or feet. Water extracts by coction, and proof spirit by digestion, nearly all the virtue of the hellebore: rectisied spirit takes up chiefly the irritating resinous part. After due coction in water, it gives out little to spirit: but after repeated digestions in pure spirit, it is said still to yield to water a considerable proportion of a diuretic mucilaginous substance: the quantity of watery extract amounts to about one third of the root, the spirituous only to about one fifth.
The extract made with water is the belt and safest preparation of this root when designed for a cathartic; as it contains both the purgative and diuretic parts of the hellebore, and as the irritating power of its active matter is consider-ably abatecl by the boiling: it may be given from eight or ten graips to a scruple or more, but is used ostener in conjunction with other materials of similar intention, than by itself. *An extract of black hellebore, made in a very operose way by macerating the root in rectified spirits, and wine, and then strongly expresling the liquor, which is afterwards repeatedly mixed with water, and evaporated to a due consistence, is the principal ingredient of a celebrated medicine for the dropsy in France, known by the name of Bacher's tonic pills. The other articles are an extract of myrrh, and powder of Carduus benedictus. These pills are said to produce a very copious evacuation both by stool and urine; and at the same time to brace and strengthcn the solids. Their use is prohibited to persons of a tense fibre, or who are suspected to have internal suppurations. They are to be used with great caution also in hot climates. In dropsies with relaxation, they are said to produce the happiest effects.
Extractum helleb. nigri Ph. Load. & Ed.
A tincture made in proof spirit appears the most eligible preparation for the purposes of an alterative and deobstruent: four ounces of the root may be digested in a quart†, or two pounds and a half of the spirit ‡, with the addition of thirty or forty† grains of cochineal to render the colour more sightly; and the filtered tincture given to the quantity of a tea-spoonful twice a day, in warm water or any other convenient vehicle. Dr. Mead informs us, that in menstrual obstructions the power of this medicine is so great, that when, from an ill conformation of the parts, or other causes, the expected discharge does not succeed upon the use of it, the blood is so forcibly propelled, as to make its way through other passages.