Herb: California False Hellebore


Latin name: Veratrum californicum


Family: Melanthiaceae



Medicinal use of California False Hellebore:

Although a very poisonous plant, California false hellebore was often employed medicinally by a number of native North American Indian tribes who used it mainly as an external application to treat wounds etc. It also had quite a reputation as a contraceptive. It is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism. Any use of this plant, especially internal use, should be carried out with great care and preferably only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. The root is analgesic, disinfectant and febrifuge. A decoction has been used in the treatment of venereal disease. The roots have been grated then chewed and the juice swallowed as a treatment for colds. A poultice of the mashed raw root has been used as a treatment for rheumatism, boils, sores, cuts, swellings and burns. The dried and ground up root has been used as a dressing on bruises and sores. A poultice of the chewed root has been applied to rattlesnake bites to draw out the poison. The powdered root has been rubbed on the face to allay the pain of toothache. A decoction of the root has been taken orally by both men and women as a contraceptive. A dose of one teaspoon of this decoction three times a day for three weeks is said to ensure permanent sterility in women.

Description of the plant:



Plant:
Perennial


Height:
2.5 m
(8 1/4 foot)

Flovering:
August to
September

Habitat of the herb:

Swamps, creek bottoms, moist woodlands and meadows, from lowland to the sub-alpine zone.

Other uses of California False Hellebore:

The dried and powdered root is used as an insecticide and a parasiticide. It is also effective against caterpillars and mammals so great caution is advised.

Propagation of the herb:

Unless stored in damp sand at around 4C the seed has a short viability. Where possible it is best to sow the seed in a lightly shaded position in the greenhouse as soon as it is ripe. Stored seed needs to be stratified but can be very slow to germinate. Germination can be erratic even for seed sown when it was fresh, it usually takes place within 3 - 12 months at 15C but can be much longer. The plant produces just one seedleaf in its first year, this forms an over-wintering bulb. It takes up to 10 years for the plant to reach maturity. Sow the seed thinly so there is no need to thin or transplant them, and grow the seedlings on undisturbed in the pot for their first two years of growth. Apply a liquid feed at intervals through the growing season to ensure the plants do not become nutrient deficient. At the end of the second year plant out the dormant plants into individual pots and grow them on in light shade in the greenhouse for a further year or two before planting them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Division in March/April or in October. Establish the plants in pots in a shaded frame before planting them out. Division is best carried out in the autumn because the plants come into growth very early in the spring. Root cuttings, 6mm long with a bud, rooted in a sandy soil in a cold frame.

Cultivation of California False Hellebore:

Swamps, creek bottoms, moist woodlands and meadows, from lowland to the sub-alpine zone.

Known hazards of Veratrum californicum:

All parts of the plant are highly poisonous. The flowers are poisonous to insects, including bees.

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.