Medicinal plants

Christmas rose (hellebore) - history, effects and dangers

Christmas rose (hellebore) - history, effects and dangers

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The Christmas rose blooms in winter, hence its name, which is reminiscent of the supposed birth of Jesus at Christmas. With its delicate white flowers, it is also a symbol of purity and the rebirth of life in the cold season. The Christmas rose (often also called hellebore) and its relatives contain strong poisons, at the same time (or precisely because of this) they have played an important role in medicine since ancient times.

Profile of the Christmas rose

  • Scientific name: Helleborus niger
  • Common names: Snow rose, Christmas rose, Black Christmas root, snow flower, scabies flower, March quail, fire root, fire root, bracken, gill root, winter rose, grove, devil's herb, wolf tooth, black Christmas rose, black hellebore, ice flower
  • family: Buttercup family
  • distribution: The natural distribution area is the Alps, the Apennines and the northern Balkans, in Germany it is only native to the south of Bavaria.
  • Parts of plants used: The dried rhizome with the attached roots
  • application areas (historical):
    • Psychoses
    • confusion
    • Meningitis
    • depression
    • Heart disease
    • Blood vessel system disorders
    • Gastrointestinal disorders
    • acute diarrhea
    • Urinary tract complaints
    • Laxatives and abortions

The most important facts

  • Hellebore has been used as a medicinal and poisonous plant since ancient times.
  • Helleborus served as a weapon in biological warfare.
  • At the same time, it should "drive you crazy" and heal "madness".
  • Helleborus niger contains strong poisons in combination with alkaloids and steroid saponins. Because of this quickly fatal connection and the simultaneous lack of medical efficacy, Christrose is no longer officially used in phytotherapy today.
  • Esotericism, religion and folk medicine still use the dangerous plant.

Christmas rose - ingredients

The Christmas rose contains highly toxic substances, especially a steroid saponin mixture (Helleborin, Hellebrin and Helleborein) and protoanemonin, the steroidal alkaloid cyclopamine and the alkaloids celliamin, sprintilamine and sprintilin. Hellebrin is a cardiac glycoside and is one of the bufadienolides that are so named because they were first discovered in the secretions of common toads (Bufo bufo). Hellebrin consists of the aglycon Hellebrigenin, L-rhamnose and glucose.

Medical effects

In folk medicine, snow lily was used, for example, against constipation, nausea, menstrual problems and worm infections. You have been among other things since ancient times

  • pain relieving,
  • anti-inflammatory,
  • laxative
  • antipyretic,
  • relaxing,
  • Vomiting,
  • antidepressant
  • and antispasmodic

Attributed to properties. Christrose is also said to act on the immune system and inhibit tumors. Although an effect could be determined preclinical in tumor cell cultures, there are no clinical studies in cancer patients. Vomiting and laxative effects are undoubtedly present, but these are already symptoms of hellebore poisoning.

Evidence of effectiveness for the other suspected effects is missing. For this reason, and because of the strong poisonous effect, proprietary applications with hellebore should be avoided. The black hellebore is no longer used in phytotherapy due to the combination of Hellebrin, Protoanemonin and Saponins, but isolated Hellebrin is used in medicine.

Christmas rose as a poisonous plant

Due to the Helleborin in the root, the Protoanemonin in the leaves and the Saponine all parts of the Black Hellebore are poisonous. The plant sap causes severe irritation on the skin and mucous membrane, the skin becomes inflamed and blisters. Ingested orally or nasally, such as from snuff, gastroenteritis, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain can occur.

Signs of hellebore poisoning include

  • Visual disturbances,
  • Tinnitus,
  • Dizziness,
  • Loss of orientation,
  • Colic pain and cramps
  • as well as increased salivation.

Heart failure and heart failure

Helleborin works similarly to digitalis. Symptoms are:

  • Disorders of the heart rhythm,
  • slow heartbeat,
  • irregular heartbeat,
  • dilated pupils,
  • central excitation of the nervous system,
  • Kidney disorders and kidney failure,
  • Circulatory collapse
  • as well as paralysis.

Death occurs through respiratory paralysis. Serious poisoning occurs when three seeds are consumed.

The toxic effects on the central nervous system are recognizable by lethargy, confusion and general weakness. Chronic poisoning from Helleborus in lower doses is manifested by neuropsychiatric disorders such as confusion, headache and fatigue, hallucinations and delirium. A strong weight loss up to anorexia is also possible.

What to do in case of hellebore poisoning?

If you experience symptoms of hellebore poisoning, you must immediately contact the emergency doctor. The best way to neutralize the poison in the stomach is to give medical charcoal immediately. Benzodiazepines such as midazolam and diazepam work against the cramps. If the heartbeat slows down, atropine helps - from the emergency doctor. Weakness in breathing can be managed with intubation and oxygenation.

Menstruation and melancholy

Despite, or more precisely because of its poisonous effect, the hellebore was boiled in German folk medicine and used as a medicine, on the one hand against psychological complaints such as "hysteria" and "melancholy" - today we would speak of psychological overexcitation and depression. On the other hand against liver diseases, jaundice, edema in the abdomen, menstrual problems, constipation and other digestive disorders.

Hellebore actually has a strong laxative effect that helps against constipation - the side effects, however, are at least gastrointestinal inflammation, nausea and vomiting.

A powder from the dried root should help externally applied against ulcers, rashes and pigment spots. In the case of inflammation of the respiratory tract, Christmas rose was used to sneeze out the mucus - therefore the plant is called hellebore. Celts of the ancient world are said to have dipped their arrows in hellebore extract to make the meat of the killed animals more tender.

Helleborus and Hippocrates

Centuries before Christ, Helleborus was known to the Greeks - as a medicinal and poisonous plant. According to one thesis, the name Helleborus comes from the Helleborus river north of Athens near Antikyra. Another thesis derives the term from the Greek words "Helein" for kill and "Bora" for food or cattle feed. Accordingly, Helleborus would have been the plant on which the cattle died if they ate them.

In any case, it is clear that the Greeks are probably not Helleborus niger, described our Christmas rose because it is only widespread in the north of the Balkans. In the core area of ​​Greece, however, came and comes Helleborus cyclophyllus in front. Also Helleborus orientalis In today's Turkey and Asia Minor, the Greeks were probably known - the toxic-medical effects of the different species are, however, similar.

The ancient Greeks knew about the poisonous effects of the Helleborus roots. As early as 600 BC, Solon poisoned a stream from which the inhabitants of the city of Krissa obtained their drinking water with crushed hellebore, which paralyzed them and struck them with diarrhea. This was probably the species most common in Southeast Europe in the Balkans Helleborus odorus. "Helleborio" became a synonym for crazy, and the hellebore served as a remedy for it.

Hippocrates used the plant as a laxative and diuretic, but warned of its toxicity. The Greek doctor Dioskurides valued it as a laxative, against epilepsy, "melancholy", emotional outbursts, gout, paralysis, hearing problems, scabies and as a mouthwash for inflammation.

Hellebore against mental illness

In the humoral pathology of antiquity, the study of bodily fluids, an excess of black bile should cause mental illnesses, which we would today call psychoses, bipolar disorders, dissociative or affect disorders, but also leads to cerebral disorders such as epilepsy from today's perspective. Those affected should lose this excess "black bile" by sneezing at it - and this is where the "hellebore" came into play. It bore its name because it promoted sneezing.

Toothache and laxatives

In addition to alleviating convulsions and overexcited feelings (rage, outbursts of anger), Helleborus niger was also supposed to serve in ancient times to drive away unwanted embryos. From Greek antiquity to the medieval Constantinople (Byzantium), Helleborus was used to strengthen the heart and to purify “spoiled juices”. In the European Middle Ages, hellebore was obviously also used in Arabia, so the root was sometimes used as condisum denotes what is derived from Arabic.

Paracelsus (1493 to 1541) administered an "elixir for long life" from the dried leaves of Helleborus. In the Renaissance, at least three Helleborus species were used to treat malaria.

Persisted in Greece Helleborus cyclophyllus as a medicine until today. So it was used in folk medicine as a means to relieve toothache. For this, only a piece of the root is kept in the mouth for a while. Hellebore tea should strengthen the voice of speakers. Helleborus was also used to treat toothache in Italy and Turkey.

In Montenegro the roots of Helleborus odorus however, applied externally as an extract, help against eczema, reddening of the skin and itching. In the Apennines, the aerial parts of Helleborus foetidus still used today as a wick for oil lamps and to clean stoves and chimneys. In Denmark, a tea made from the leaves of the black hellebore should help against epilepsy and other convulsions.

In the early modern period, the black hellebore was considered a heart medicine and diuretic drug. The doctors at the time were familiar with the toxic effects and warned of overdoses. According to the doctor Gerhard Madaus, Helleborus niger should help against kidney congestion, uterine problems and brain diseases, against epilepsy, collapse and dizziness with nausea when stooping. He also recommended it for gout, facial pain and inflamed testicles.

In traditional medicine, the Christmas rose is still used today, as an emetic, for draining and against urinary retention.

A sacred plant

The Christmas rose has always been associated with the supernatural because of its powerful effects. On the one hand, because of its toxicity, it was considered a "devil's herb", a witch plant that should make you invisible, but on the other hand it was a flower of Christ. One of the shepherds on the way to the crèche in Bethlehem should not have had a gift for the Son of God. When he cried because of this, where the tears fell to the ground, the Christmas rose grew. From this he picked a bouquet for the baby Jesus.

The background is probably that the black hellebore blooms around Christmas, on the supposed birthday of Jesus. The Advent song “it is a rose sprung from a root tender. As the old people sang to us, the species came from Jesse “probably refers to the Christmas rose. It was also considered a sacred plant because the sneezing stimulus caused by the roots was supposed to drive sick demons out of the body.

Christmas rose in homeopathy

Esoteric-magical ideas about plants in general and about Helleborus niger also went into homeopathy. Helleborus primarily uses the teaching of salvation founded by Samuel Hahnemann, according to which similar things can be treated with similar things, as a remedy for people who have "lost their rhythm".

In homeopathy, the black hellebore is said to "numb the inner feelings", "psychoses", "silent melancholy, melancholy in puberty and in the menopause", with "strong arousal", "delirium", "get angry quickly", " Inability to think ”and“ distrust ”help.

Patients who are suitable for hellebore are characterized by "religious despair", "seeing ghosts", "crying out during sleep", "extreme fear" and involuntary gestures and noises. They feel persecuted, cannot stand being looked at, suffer from homesickness, want to flee their lives and are restless at night.

Buy Christmas rose

Christmas roses are very popular as ornamental plants because they bloom in winter, i.e. in December and January. Most forms bloom "snow white", but some also pink. When buying, you should make sure that it is Helleborus niger acts and not one of the various other Helleborus species. These are often also incorrectly referred to as “Christmas roses” in the garden trade.

Helleborus orientalis for example, however, it only blooms in January to March, i.e. in early spring, and you have little of that if you want to enjoy the blossoms at Christmas. It is best to buy and plant the black hellebore between October and November. Then you can still bury the plant in the unfrozen soil.

Make sure the plant is healthy: black spots on the leaves indicate a fungal disease called black spot disease. Brown-black, putrid spots indicate a basic rhizome rot. The shoots should not be damaged, the soil should be well rooted, the leaves should not be stained or eaten. The plant shouldn't smell foul.

Cultivate Christmas rose

As the flowering period shows, the Christmas rose is hardy. It likes mediocrity, in the light it is called partial shade, in full shade it forms fewer flowers - outdoors it grows in deciduous open forests. The soil should contain a good amount of humus (compost is ideal), neither be too dry, nor build up waterlogging.

A high lime content rewards the plant with vigorous growth, it likes it alkaline to neutral. You can calmly work limestone gravel into the soil for planting. Organic fertilizer, i.e. compost, is sufficient. If the soil is well ventilated, you will enjoy the flower that blooms in winter for many years. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


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Video: Hellebore Care Guide. Garden Answer (January 2023).