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Common Name: Stinking Hellebore
Helleborus foetidus is a Evergreen Perennial up to 0.80 metres tall.
It is harvested from the wild for local use as a medicine and source of materials..
All parts of the plant are poisonous[
], this poison can possibly be absorbed through the skin[
Western and southern Europe, including Britain, from Belgium to Spain and Italy.
Woods, scrub and sunny banks on moist chalk and limestone soils[
Succeeds in any good garden soil[
], preferring a moist well-drained rich loam in a sheltered position in partial shade[
]. Plants are suitable for naturalizing in a woodland garden[
] and also succeed in the shade of a north-facing wall[
]. They do not object to lime[
]. Grow well in heavy clay soils[
]. Dislikes drought.
The stems live for one or two years, dying after flowering[
Slugs are very fond of this plant and it will probably require some protection from them[
The various species in this genus hybridize freely[
There are some named forms, selected for their ornamental value[
]. The whole plant, especially when bruised, gives off an unpleasant smell that is similar to decaying meat[
Plants resent root disturbance and should be placed in their permanent positions whilst still small[
A greedy plant, inhibiting the growth of nearby plants, especially legumes[
A very toxic plant that is considered to be useful for reducing blood pressure in various conditions of hypertension[
]. Tthe root contains the alkaloids nervine, pseudo-nervine and veratridine[
]. It is best to harvest the root in the autumn and dry it for later use[
This species has similar medicinal properties to the black hellebore, H. niger[
]. These properties are:-
Black hellebore is a very poisonous plant that is toxic when taken in all but the smallest doses. As such it should not be taken except under professional supervision. The plant contains cardiac glycosides which have a similar action to the foxglove (Digitalis spp) and it has been used as a heart stimulant for the elderly, though this treatment is no longer recommended[
The root is anthelmintic, cardiac, cathartic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, irritant, violently narcotic and a drastic purgative[
]. It is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use[
]. It has been used in the treatment of dropsy, amenorrhoea, nervous disorders and hysteria, but it is very poisonous and great care must be taken over the dosage[
]. The root is also applied externally as a local irritant[
], but even this should be done with care, see notes above on toxicity.
A homeopathic remedy is made from the roots[
]. It is used in the treatment of headaches, psychic disorders, enteritis and spasms[
A decoction of the roots is used as a parasiticide against body lice, fleas etc[
]. This use is somewhat dangerous, see the notes above on toxicity.
Seed - best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame[
]. Sow stored seed as early in the year as possible[
], it usually germinates in the autumn to spring. Seed can take 18 months to germinate. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. This species produces flowering plants in 2 - 3 years from seed[
It is not possible to divide this species, but it is possible to take basal cuttings of young vegetative shoots[
]. Harvest the shoots when they are about 10cm long with plenty of underground stem. Pot them up into individual pots and keep them in light shade in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the summer.