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Veratrum (li lu)

What is veratrum? What is it used for?

Also called black hellebore, veratrum is a low-lying perennial plant that grows in the mountainous regions of central and southern Europe, with dark, shiny, leathery leaves and strikingly white flowers that bloom in the winter, giving it the nickname of "Christmas rose." It can reach a height of 12 inches, and grows primarily in shady areas.

Veratrum has been used in healing for centuries. In ancient times, veratrum was known as melampode, named after Melampus, a famous Greek soothsayer and physician, who used the herb as a purgative and to treat incidences of mania. The Greek physician Hippocrates described a formula containing veratrum to help treat "hysterical suffocation" in women. In the Middle Ages, veratrum was given to cattle and other large animals to help treat coughs. In terms of human consumption, the roots and rhizomes of the plant are used in herbal remedies. The roots and rhizomes are harvested in the fall, cleaned, then dried in the sun for use.

Veratrum is one of the most potent purgative herbs in existence, with an extremely acrid taste caused by the chemical helleborin. It has shown to be valuable in the treatment of some nervous disorders and hysteria, and to help remove poisons from the body. However, the herb is also toxic and a powerful narcotic, and must be used with extreme caution.

How much veratrum should I take?

The typical dosage of veratrum is between 2 and 10 drops of a fluid extract, or 0.3-0.9 grams of a powder in pill form. A tincture of veratrum root is sometimes used in homeopathic formulas. It can also be applied topically when mixed with oil.

What forms of veratrum are available?

Veratrum is available as a pill, powder, capsule, or tincture. It must be consumed with extreme caution at all times.

What can happen if I take too much veratrum? Are there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I take?

Because of its highly toxic properties, veratrum should be consumed internally only with extreme caution. Overdose of veratrum may result in continuous, prolonged vomiting, which may lead to dehydration. It is not to be consumed by women who are pregnant or breastfeeding. Veratrum has been given a class 3 rating by the American Herbal Products Association, which means that enough data exists to recommend it be labeled with the following:

"To be used only under the supervision of an expert qualified in the appropriate use of this substance." The AHPA also recommends that the labeling must include proper use information, such as dosage, contraindications, potential adverse effects and drug interactions, and any other relevant information. In addition, veratrum is incompatible with a variety of herbs, including asarum, white peony root, ginseng root, codonopsis root, glehnia, and sophora. Patients taking any of these herbs should avoid taking veratrum. As always, make sure to consult with a licensed health care provider before taking veratrum or any other herbal remedy or dietary supplement.

References

  • Chen JK, Chen TT. Chinese Medical Herbology and Pharmacology. City of Industry, CA: Art of Medicine Press, 2004, pp. 1030-1031.
  • Duke JA. Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS Herbs and Other Economic Plants. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1992.
  • Frohne D, Pfander HJ. Giftplanzen Ein Handbuch fur Apotheker, Toxikologen und Biologen, 4 aufl. Stuttgart: Wiss Verlagsges, 1997.
  • Gruenwald J, Brendler TA, Jaenicke C (eds.) PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company, 2000, pp. 97-98.
  • McGuffin M, Hobbs C, Upton R, et al. (eds.) American Herbal Products Association's Botanical Safety Handbook. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1997, p. 121.

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