Herb: Black Hellebore

Latin name: Helleborus niger

Family: Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family)

Medicinal use of Black Hellebore:

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.

Description of the plant:


30 cm
(11 3/4 inch)

January to

Habitat of the herb:

Woods and thickets, mainly in mountains, on calcareous soils. Sometimes also found in grassland.

Other uses of Black Hellebore:

Used as a parasiticide against body lice, fleas etc. This use is somewhat dangerous, see the notes above on toxicity. The powdered root has been used as a snuff. Plants are suitable for ground cover when spaced about 45cm apart each way.

Propagation of the herb:

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. Division after flowering or in autumn. Take care since the plant resents disturbance.

Cultivation of Black Hellebore:

Woods and thickets, mainly in mountains, on calcareous soils. Sometimes also found in grassland.

Known hazards of Helleborus niger:

All parts of the plant are poisonous, this poison can possibly be absorbed through the skin. The fresh root can be a violent irritant to sensitive skin.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.