Veratrum album, commonly known as false helleborine, white hellebore, European white hellebore, white veratrum; syn. Veratrum lobelianum Bernh.), is a poisonous medicinal plant of the Liliaceae (lily family) or Melanthiaceae. It is native to Europe and parts of western Asia (western Siberia, Turkey, Caucasus).
The plant is a perennial herb with a stout vertical rhizome covered with remnants of old leaf sheaths. The stout, simple stems are 50 to 175 cm tall. They have been mistaken for yellow gentian, Gentiana lutea, which is used in beverages, resulting in poisoning.
The root is very poisonous, with a paralyzing effect on the nervous system. In two cases of fatal poisoning from eating the seeds, the toxins veratridine and cevadine were present in the blood. In 1983 sneezing powders produced from the herb in West Germany were reported to have caused severe intoxications in Scandinavia.
In 2014 it was claimed that Alexander the Great could have been poisoned by a wine made from Veratrum album. Previously it was believed that poisoning due to arsenic or (a mythical belief) the water of the river Styx may have led to the death of the King of Macedon.
In antiquity, an effective emetic based on white hellebore and a bitter oval seed (which Hahneman believed was the seed of Erigeron or Senecio) was mixed by the physicians of Antikyra, a city of Phocis in Greece.
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- Schep LJ, Slaughter RJ, Vale JA, Wheatley P (January 2014). "Was the death of Alexander the Great due to poisoning? Was it Veratrum album?". Clinical Toxicology 52 (1): 72–7. doi:10.3109/15563650.2013.870341. PMID 24369045.
- Bennett-Smith, Meredith (14 January 2014). "Was Alexander The Great Poisoned By Toxic Wine?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
- Hahnemann, S. (1852), "A Medical Historical Dissertation on the Helleborism of the Ancients", The Lesser writings of Samuel Hahnemann, William Radde, p. 604, para. 117
Media related to Veratrum album at Wikimedia Commons
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