Hellebore , in pharmacy, the roots of the various species of the genus helleborus, of the natural order ranunculaceoe, and of the vera-trum album and V. viride, natural order melan-thaceoe, now considered a suborder of liliuceoe.
Black Hellebore (Helleborus niger).
The black hellebore, helleborus niger, is a plant growing wild in the mountainous parts of southern and central Europe, and cultivated in gardens for the sake of its beautiful rose-like flowers, which bloom in midwinter and give to the plant the name of the Christmas rose. In the United States its time of blooming is very early in spring. The fibres of the roots are used for preparing the extract, decoction, or tincture. They are exceedingly acrid and burning to the taste, and when fresh produce inflammation and even vesication on being applied to the skin. They are irritant to all mucous membranes with which they may be brought in contact. The extract is a drastic purgative and emetic, but it is now seldom prescribed, except as an emmenagogue. Gradual paralysis and convulsions are among its poisonous effects upon the human system. Until the discovery of the H. orientalis it was supposed to be the same that furnished the black hellebore or melampodium, a famous medicine with the ancient Greeks and Romans, who used it in the belief that it gave clearness and activity to the mental faculties; and the most celebrated philosophers are said to have drunk its infusion for this purpose.
It was also employed in mania, dropsy, and various other affections. - H. foetidus, or bear's foot, is a perennial European plant of extremely acrid properties, a powerful emetic and cathartic, and long used in Great Britain as a domestic remedy for worms. It has even been known to cause the expulsion of the tapeworm. - White hellebore is the rhizoma of veratrum album, an herbaceous plant indigenous to the Alps and Pyrenees, and imported from Germany. Its virtue resides in the alkaloid vera-tria, which however is usually obtained from the seeds of veratrum sabadilla, growing in Mexico. This alkaloid, which has the formula C64H52N2O16, is a powerful irritant when applied externally, and when absorbed diminishes the activity of the heart and the irritability of the nerves and muscles. It is also emetic and cathartic. It is seldom used in medicine except as an external application, in the form of an ointment, in gout, rheumatism, and neuralgia. It has of late become an important horticultural appliance, as it is found to be the most effective destroyer of the currant worm, abraxas ribearia, which in some localities defoliates the plants and destroys the crop of fruit.
The powdered white hellebore is sifted upon the leaves, or stirred with water and applied with a syringe. - American hellebore is the rhizoma of V. viride, or Indian poke, a common plant in the swamps and meadows of the northern and middle states. It resembles the European species in its violent action as an emetic, and also in stimulating the secretions. It acts powerfully upon the nervous system, producing vertigo and dimness of vision, and dilating the pupils. The frequency and force of the pulse are diminished under its influence. By careful management it may be used for reducing the pulse in inflammatory diseases without the unpleasant effects just mentioned. Its action is supposed to depend upon two alkaloids, veratroidia, very similar to if not identical with veratria and viridia, which produces the sedative effect upon the circulation just mentioned, and very little it any emetic or cathartic action. The fluid extract and tincture of V. viride have been largely employed, in doses of one, two, or three drops frequently repeated, in diseases attended with fever. It is doubtful, however, whether the curative effect over the disease corresponds to the lowering of the pulse.
Pneumonia, peritonitis, and cardiac diseases are the affections in which it has been most employed.
White Hellebore (Veratrum album).