The American hellebore (Veratrum viride), also known as Indian poke, itch weed, or green hellebore, is a perennial plant that grows in swamps, low grounds, and moist meadows throughout North America and Canada. It features a thick and fleshy rhizome that produces numerous large whitish roots. The stem can reach a height of 3 to 5 feet, with lower leaves measuring 6 inches to 1 foot long and decreasing in size alternately up the stem.
From June to July, the plant produces numerous yellowish-green flowers. The roots should be harvested in the autumn as the plant quickly loses its potency and should be stored in a tightly closed container. When fresh, the plant emits a very strong and unpleasant odor, which diminishes as it dries.
The medicinal part of this plant is its rhizome, and alcohol is the solvent used. It has various bodily influences, such as sedative, emetic, diaphoretic, and sternutatory. As an expectorant, it is unparalleled, and as an arterial sedative, it is unmatched. When taken in small doses, it promotes appetite more than any other medicine.
As a diaphoretic, it is one of the most reliable medicines, and it can induce perspiration or coolness on the surface of the skin depending on the patient’s condition. In the right dosage, it can decrease the pulse rate from 150 beats per minute to as low as 30. Protoveratrine, the most potent active ingredient, stimulates the vagus nerve to slow the pulse, while nervine, the majority of the total alkaloids, lowers arterial tension by powerfully depressing the heart and vasomotor center.
It is particularly useful in treating fever, heart disease, acute and inflammatory rheumatism, and other conditions involving overactive circulation. It is also deobstruent or alternative and can be used to treat cancer, scrofula, and consumption. This plant has nervine properties, making it valuable for treating painful diseases, erratic actions, convulsions, morbid irritability, and irritative mobility, such as in cholera, epilepsy, pneumonia (except in the later stages), puerperal fever, neuralgia, and other conditions without producing torpor or stupefying the system like opium.
It is also an effective emetic, which is slow but sure and efficient, without being cathartic. It is well-suited for use as an emetic in whooping cough, croup, asthma, scarlet fever, and other cases with high febrile or inflammatory action. Veratrum should be used with caution, as it can be poisonous in doses larger than those recommended below.
The usual method of administration is in the form of a tincture, made by macerating 8-16 ounces of dried root in diluted alcohol (83.5 percent) for two weeks and filtering it. For an adult male, an initial dose of 8 drops should be taken, and then repeated every 3 hours, increasing the dose by 1-2 drops each time until nausea or vomiting, or a reduction of the pulse to sixty-five or seventy, occurs, at which point the dose should be halved.
Females and young people aged fourteen to eighteen should start with 6 drops, increasing as above. For children between two and five years, start with 2 drops and increase by 1 drop only. A single dot is sufficient for children under two years old. In case of accidental overdose resulting in vomiting or excessive depression, a complete antidote can be administered in the form of a full dose of morphine or opium, mixed with a little brandy or ginger.
Veratrum should be continued for three to seven days after the symptoms of pneumonia, typhoid fever, and many other diseases have subsided. The administration of this medicine should be closely monitored, and if the pulse begins to recede, or if nausea or vomiting occurs, it should be stopped immediately. In typhoid fever, quinia should not be used while Veratrum is being administered.
American Hellebore
American Hellebore also known as Indian poke, itch weed, or green hellebore, is a perennial plant that grows in swamps, low grounds, and moist meadows throughout North America and Canada. Photo Credit – Doug McGrady
For various medical conditions, a tincture of the fresh root, harvested in autumn, is used in homeopathic practice. These conditions include amaurosis, amenorrhea, apoplexy, asthma, bunions, cecum inflammation, chilblains, chorea, congestion, convulsions, diplopia, diaphragmatic, dysmenorrhea, erysipelas, nervous and sick headaches, heart affections, hiccup, hyperpyrexia, influenza, malarial fever, measles, meningitic menses, myalgia, esophageal spasms, orchitis, pneumonia, proctalgia, puerperal convulsions, puerperal mania, dreamful sleep, spinal congestion, congested spleen, sunstroke, and uterus congestion.
In Russia, Chemeritza lobelia, a type of hellebore, is highly valued for its medicinal properties, and the cultivation of American hellebore is also possible. Folk medicine uses decoctions or nastika (vodka and hellebore) and preparations of ointments for painful rheumatic conditions, such as sciatica. However, caution must be exercised as it can be poisonous in incorrect amounts. The agent is used clinically with extreme care and only under prescription.
For veterinary purposes, it can be mixed with agrimony (Agrimonia eupatoria) for parasites and pests. Still, it is toxic, and proper personal protection is required when preparing or spraying the solution, including wearing a wet mask.


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