American Hellebore. Veratrum viride Ait.
OTHER COMMON NAMES—True veratrum, green veratrum, American veratrum, green hellebore, swamp-hellebore, big hellebore, false hellebore, bear-corn, bugbane, bugwort, devil's-bite, earth-gall, Indian poke, itchweed, tickleweed, duckretter.
HABITAT AND RANGE—American Hellebore is native in rich, wet woods, swamps and wet meadows. Its range extending from Canada, Alaska, and Minnesota south to Georgia.
DESCRIPTION OF PLANT—Early in spring, usually in company with the Skunk-Cabbage, the large bright green leaves of American Hellebore make their way thru the soil, their straight, erect leaf spears forming a conspicuous feature of the yet scanty spring vegetation. Later in the season a stout and erect leafy stem is sent up, sometimes growing as tall as 6 feet. It is solid and round, pale green, very leafy, and closely surrounded by the sheathing bases of the leaves, unbranched except in the flowering head. The leaves are hairy, prominently nerved, folded or pleated like a fan. They have no stems, but their bases encircle or sheathe the main stalk, and are very large, especially the lower ones, which are from 6 to 12 inches in length, from 3 to 6 inches in width, and broadly oval. As they approach the top of the plant the leaves become narrower. The flowers, which appear from May to July, are greenish yellow and numerous, and are borne in rather open clusters. American Hellebore belongs to the Lily family (Liliaceae) and is a perennial.
This species is a very near relative of the European white hellebore (Veratrum album L.), and in fact has by some been regarded as identical with it, or at least as a variety of it. It is taller than V. album and has narrower leaves and greener flowers. Both species are official in the United States Pharmacopoeia.
DESCRIPTION OF ROOTSTOCK—The fresh rootstock of American Hellebore is ovoid or obconical, upright, thick, and fleshy, the upper part of it arranged in layers, the lower part of it more solid, and producing numerous whitish roots from all sides. In the fresh state it has a rather strong, disagreeable odor. As found in commerce, American Hellebore rootstock is sometimes entire, but more generally sliced, and is of a light brown or dark brown color externally and internally yellowish white. The roots, which are from 4 to 8 inches long, have a shriveled appearance, and are brown or yellowish. There is no odor to the dried rootstock, but when powdered it causes violent sneezing. The rootstock, which has a bitter and very acrid taste, is poisonous.
COLLECTION, PRICES AND USES—American Hellebore should be dug in autumn after the leaves have died and washed and carefully dried, either in the whole state or sliced in various ways. It deteriorates with age, and should therefore not be kept longer than a year.
The adulterations sometimes met with are the rootstocks of related plants, and the skunk-cabbage is also occasionally found mixed with it, but this is probably unintentional, as the two plants usually grow close together.
Collectors of American Hellebore root receive from about 3 to 10 cents a pound.
American Hellebore, official in the United States Pharmacopoeia, is an acrid, narcotic poison, and has emetic, diaphoretic, and sedative properties.