Black hellebore rhizome is the product of the Christmas rose, Helleborus niger, Linn. (N.O. Ranunculaceae), a herbaceous plant with perennial rhizome, cultivated in this country, but growing wild in abundance on the lower alps of Central Europe. The commercial drug is usually deprived of its roots ("trimmed"), but it occasionally occurs with the roots attached ("with fibre"). The rhizome is small, black, and tortuous, varying from about 2 to 5 centimetres in length, and averaging about 5 millimetres in thickness. It produces numerous short erect branches, which bear amplexicaul leaf scars, and are terminated with the scars of the aerial stems. Its under surface bears numerous root scars, or, if the rhizome has not been trimmed, long, black, rather stout roots. The rhizome breaks with a short fracture, and exhibits a small pith surrounded by comparatively large wedge-shaped, radially elongated wood bundles. It has only a slight odour, but a bitter, acrid taste. Powdered hellebore has a powerful sternutatory action. Other species of Helleborus yielding rhizomes resembling that of H. niger are H. viridis,Linn., the green hellebore, and H. foetidus, Linn., the fetid hellebore. The former may be distinguished by its large pith and tangentially extended wood bundles; in the rhizome of H. foetidus the wood is radiate and is more strongly developed, there being little or no pith. The rhizome of Cimicifuga racemosa, Nutt., is much larger, the branches are longer, and curve upwards, and the drug contains tannin. White hellebore is the rhizome of Veratrum album, Linn.
Constituents.—The drug contains two crystalline toxic glucosides, helleborin and helleborein, the former being a narcotic, and the latter a cardiac poison, similar in its action to digitalis, and a drastic purgative. The rhizome is free from tannin.
Action and Uses.—Black hellebore is a powerful hydragogue cathartic and emmenagogue. It is poisonous in large doses, producing violent inflammation of the gastric and intestinal mucous membranes. It was formerly much employed in amenorrhoea and dropsy, but has now almost fallen into disuse. Applied locally the fresh root is violently irritant. For internal use a tincture is prepared or a decoction may be made (1 in 80).
- Tinctura Hellebori Nigri, B.P.C.—TINCTURE OF BLACK HELLEBORE. 1 in 8.
- Cathartic and emmenagogue, but seldom employed. After absorption it exerts an action like that of digitalis. Dose.—1 to 4 mils (15 to 60 minims).
The British Pharmaceutical Codex, 1911, was published by direction of the Council of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain.