Veratrum album

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Veratrum album
Veratrum album Aubrac.JPG
Scientific classification e
Kingdom: Plantae
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Liliales
Family: Melanthiaceae
Genus: Veratrum
Species: V. album
Binomial name
Veratrum album

Veratrum album, commonly known as false helleborine, white hellebore, European white hellebore, or white veratrum; syn. Veratrum lobelianum Bernh.,[1] is a poisonous medicinal plant[2][3] of the Liliaceae (lily family) or Melanthiaceae. It is native to Europe and parts of western Asia (western Siberia, Turkey, Caucasus).[4]

(Persian and Arabic name in traditional medicine: خربق ابیض)

Plant description[edit]

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.[5][6][7]

Resveratrol has been isolated from the plant.[8][9]

Protoveratrine is the name of an alkaloid extracted from Veratrum album that has been claimed to have use in the treatment of hypertension.[10]


The root is very poisonous, with a paralyzing effect on the nervous system.[1] 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.[11]


In 2014 it was claimed that Alexander the Great could have been poisoned by a wine made from Veratrum album.[12][13] Previously, it was believed that poisoning due to arsenic or the water of the river Styx (modern-day Mavroneri in Arcadia, Greece) that contained calicheamicin, a dangerous compound produced by bacteria,[14] 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.[15]

ssp. oxysepalum


  1. ^ a b Veratrum album at Plants For A Future
  2. ^ Felter, Harvey Wickes. (1922) The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics.
  3. ^ Felter, Harvey Wickes; Lloyd, John Uri. (1898) King's American Dispensatory.
  4. ^ Kew World Checklist of Selected Plant Families
  5. ^ Zagler, B.; Zelger, A.; Salvatore, C.; Pechlaner, C.; De Giorgi, F.; Wiedermann, C. (2005). "Dietary poisoning with Veratrum album--a report of two cases". Wiener klinische Wochenschrift. 117 (3): 106–108. PMID 15773425. doi:10.1007/s00508-004-0291-x. 
  6. ^ Rauber-Lüthy, C.; Halbsguth, U.; Kupferschmidt, H.; König, N.; Mégevand, C.; Zihlmann, K.; Ceschi, A. (2010). "Low-Dose Exposure to Veratrum album in Children Causes Mild Effects -- A Case Series". Clinical Toxicology. 48 (3): 234–237. PMID 20170391. doi:10.3109/15563650903575243. 
  7. ^ Verovnik F. (1999). "Naključna zastrupitev z belo čmeriko" [Accidental Poisoning with White Hellebore]. Zdravniški Vestnik (in Slovenian). 68 (3): 157–160. 
  8. ^ Delmas, D.; et al. (2006). "Resveratrol as a chemopreventive agent: A promising molecule for fighting cancer" (PDF). Current Drug Targets. 7 (3): 423–442. PMID 16611030. doi:10.2174/138945006776359331. 
  9. ^ Takaoka, M., 1939. [Resveratrol, a new phenolic compound, from Veratrum grandiflorum] (Title in Japanese). Nippon Kagaku Kaishi 60, 1090-1100.
  10. ^ Kupchan, S. Morris; Ayres, C. Ian (1960). "Veratrum Alkaloids. XXXIX.1The Structures of Protoveratrine A and Protoveratrine B2,3". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 82 (9): 2252–2258. ISSN 0002-7863. doi:10.1021/ja01494a039. 
  11. ^ Fogh, A.; Kulling, P.; Wickstrom, E. (1983). "Veratrum Alkaloids in Sneezing-Powder a Potential Danger". Clinical Toxicology. 20 (2): 175–179. PMID 6887310. doi:10.3109/15563658308990062. 
  12. ^ 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. PMID 24369045. doi:10.3109/15563650.2013.870341. 
  13. ^ Bennett-Smith, Meredith (14 January 2014). "Was Alexander The Great Poisoned By Toxic Wine?". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 15 January 2014. 
  14. ^ Squires, Nick (4 August 2010). "Alexander the Great poisoned by the River Styx". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 12 December 2011.
  15. ^ 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 

External links[edit]

Media related to Veratrum album at Wikimedia Commons