This section is from the book "A Text Book Of Materia Medica, Being An Account Of The More Important Crude Drugs Of Vegetable And Animal Origin", by Henry G. Greenish. Also available from Amazon: A Text Book of Materia Medica : Being an Account of the More Important Crude Drugs of Vegetable and Animal Origin.
Black hellebore rhizome, or, as it is often, but less correctly, termed, root, is obtained from the Christmas rose, Hetteborus niger, Linne (N.O. Ranunculaceoe), a low herb with a perennial rhizome, abundant on the lower Alps of southern Europe, especially in Austria, and much cultivated in this country for its white flowers, which, as the name of the plant indicates, appear in midwinter, Our supplies of the drug come chiefly from Germany. The rhizome enjoyed a considerable reputation in the later Middle Ages as a stimulant, purgative, and digestive, but it is now seldom employed. It should be collected in the autumn.
The Christmas rose produces a horizontal creeping or frequently oblique or even upright rhizome, which is usually, when dried, about 3 to 5 cm. long, 6 mm. thick, and nearly black in colour. It is generally very irregular, tortuous and branched, the older pieces often forming small knotty masses. The branches are short and erect, marked with encircling leaf-scars, and usually terminated by the scar of the aerial stem or occasionally by the remains of a stem or bud. On the under surface the scars or short portions of numerous roots may be seen; in the fresh plants these are long, rather stout and straight, but they are commonly removed from the drug.
Fig. 144. - Black Hellebore rhizome. A, young rhizome, natural size. B, old knotty rhizome, natural size.
The rhizome breaks easily with a short fracture; the section is yellowish and exhibits a thick bark, within which is a ring of small wood-bundles, all or some of which are narrow and radially elongated, enclosing a large pith. In the root the bark is thick and the wood tends to assume a stellate form, which, however, even in the older roots in which it is most marked, is never so conspicuous as it is in the root of Cimicifuga racemosa.
Fig. 145. - Black Hellebore rhizome. F, transverse section of rhizome: a, bark; y, wood-bundles; c, pith; r, medullary rays; magnified 3 diam. C, transverse section of root: a, cortex; 6, stele; magnified 3 diam. (Berg).
The odour of the drug is slight, the taste somewhat bitter and acrid. The dry powder, when inhaled, produces violent sneezing. The student should observe
(a) The dark colour and tortuous appearance.
(b) The short erect branches,
(c) The structure of the rhizome as exhibited by the transverse section.
Black hellebore rhizome contains two crystalline glucosides, helleborin and helleborein, both of which are powerful poisons. Helleborin has a burning acrid taste and is narcotic. Helleborein has a sweetish taste and is a highly active cardiac poison; it is a chromogenic saponin; dilute acids hydrolyse it to acetic acid, glucose, an acid and a neutral helleboretin, a deep violet colour being developed.
The drug is free from tannin, and the infusion does not strike a dark colour with ferric chloride, in which particular it differs from Cimicifuga racemosa.
Fig. 146. - Green Hellebore rhizome. Transverse section of rhizome (A) and root (B): a, cortex; b, wood; c, pith. Magnified 3 diam. (Berg).
Black hellebore rhizome has been employed as a drastic purgative and emmenagogue, but is now seldom administered. In large doses.it is poisonous, producing violent inflammation.
The rhizome of H. viridis, Linne, green hellebore - which should be carefully distinguished from Veratrum viride, often called also green hellebore - closely resembles that of H. niger; it is, however, far more bitter and acrid, and the transverse section exhibits wood-bundles that are broader and shorter than those of H. niger.
In the rhizome and root of H. foetidus, Linne, the wood is more strongly developed and radiate in appearance, there being little or no visible pith.