California False Heliebore
Veratrum californicum Durand
Collected along the Lolo Trail east of Hungery Creek in Idaho
Co., Idaho, on 25 Jun 1806
California false hellebore is a
large (0.7-2 m tall), robust herbaceous perennial . The stems are unbranched and
often clustered in groups. The leaves are large (10-35 cm long) and broad with
prominent veins. The small (1 cm long) whitish flowers are borne in terminal
branched spikes which are held rather erect. It
emerges as soon as snow melts in the spring. Flowers appear in July and August,
and the plant produces seeds in September. Requires a deep fertile moisture
retentive humus-rich soil. Succeeds in full sun if the soil does not dry out but
prefers a position in semi-shade. Dislikes dry soils. Grows best in a cool
California false hellebore grows in wet meadows and open forests from low to subalpine elevations at elevations of 1500 to 4000 meters . It is found throughout the Western U S.
Warning: False hellebore, or veratrum (sometimes called wild corn or cow cabbage), is causes severe poisoning in animals and is potentially dangerous to humans.
Although a very poisonous plant, California false hellebore was often employed medicinally by a number of native North American Indian tribes who used it mainly as an external application to treat wounds etc. It also had quite a reputation as a contraceptive. It is little, if at all, used in modern herbalism. Any use of this plant, especially internal use, should be carried out with great care and preferably only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner. The root is analgesic, disinfectant and febrifuge. A decoction has been used in the treatment of venereal disease. The roots have been grated then chewed and the juice swallowed as a treatment for colds. A poultice of the mashed raw root has been used as a treatment for rheumatism, boils, sores, cuts, swellings and burns. The dried and ground up root has been used as a dressing on bruises and sores. A poultice of the chewed root has been applied to rattlesnake bites to draw out the poison. The powdered root has been rubbed on the face to allay the pain of toothache.
The dried and powdered root is used as an insecticide and a parasiticide. It is also effective against caterpillars and mammals so great caution is advised.
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