Botanical Name: Veratrum viride
Common Name: American Hellebore, False Hellebore
Did you know that some people think that Veratrum was the herb used to poison and kill Alexander the Great? There are two main sources of historical information regarding the death of Alexander the Great, the Royal Diary thought to have been kept by his court and the largely fictional story Alexander Romance. In Romance, it is suggested that Alexander’s inner circle conspired to kill him. Matching the symptoms he purported to have with the symptoms of some commonly available and highly toxic substances, some researchers have suggested that Veratrum is much more likely to have been the causative agent than arsenic or strychnine. Pretty fascinating!
As you can probably tell by the above story, unless very experienced, it is only recommended to use herbs with such high negative side effects such as Veratrum in diluted doses, as often seen in homeopathic preparations such as Genestra’s HHR Cardio Drops product. In this formula, Veratrum is diluted to a 4X strength, which means it has a 1/10,000 dilution and is very safe for consumption. You can read more about dilution on Genestra/Seroyal’s site.
Description of Veratrum Plant/Habitat:
Veratrum is a group of perennials found throughout the northern hemisphere. The plants contain black rhizomes and ovate, pleated foliage and branched spires of greenish-white to yellow star shaped flowers in branched spikes.
Rhizome (as in ginger or turmeric)
Key Active Components:
Alkaloids-steroid alkaloids and glycoalkaloids (jervine, protoveratrines A & B, veratramine, veratrasine, veratrin, veratridine, veratrine)
- Veratridine and protoveratrine are responsible for a vasodepressor (loss of blood pressure) response.
Summary of Actions:
Primary Actions: hypotensive
Secondary Actions: anti-tumor
- Veratrum translates from the Old English as an herb used to cure madness. It was used to treat madness and drive the devils out of people afflicted with seizures and mania.
- It was used as a topical medicine by some of the Native American tribes as an anodyne (topical analgesic/painkiller) for injuries and muscle aches and pains. They would first apply animal fat and then the powdered root on top of that. It was also used to address the pain of toothache. It was used topically to treat head lice. The settlers also mixed it with corn to kill birds that threatened their crops. The efficacy of these treatments is unknown.
- Though I don’t know the entire history of it’s use as such, a paper written in 1946 by the Department of Pharmacology at Harvard Medical School states that at this time Veratrum was popularly used to treat eclampsia, a condition in pregnancy where seizures are brought on by high blood pressure.
- Is indicated for treatment of hypertension in individuals who have a full and bounding pulse and may be debilitated or prostrate from the condition.
- Decreases blood pressure and pulse rate.
- Veratrum has also been used to address a similar picture in patients with sunstroke and cardiovascular incident or stroke.
- Veratrum species are highly toxic and should be used with extreme caution. It is rarely used internally for this reason.
- There is some new research on the steroidal alkaloids from Veratrum having anti-tumor properties. Hopefully we will continue to see more research into this area.
- Treatment of hypertension
- Topical analgesic/painkiller
- Contraindicated in Pregnancy and Lactation
- Use extreme caution if used internally due to toxicity
- Drug Interactions can occur with antiarrhythmics, antihypertensive, beta blockers
- Overdose can depress the heart causing a weak and rapid pulse, dizziness, fainting, reduced temperature, cold, clammy skin, mydriasis, shallow breathing, sleepiness, coma and unconsciousness.
- Gastrointestinal irritation can occur in high doses or with prolonged use, resulting in gastric burning, nausea and vomiting.
- Quickly inducing vomiting may prevent death in overdoses.
Preparation and Dosage:
Tincture (1:10): 1-5 drops to a maximum of three times per day
Are you interested in reading about more herbs? Click here to check out more articles!
Was the death of Alexander the Great due to poisoning? Was it Veratrum album?. (2020). Clinical Toxicology. Retrieved from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.3109/15563650.2013.870341
THE PHARMACOLOGY OF THE VERATRUM ALKALOIDS | Physiological Reviews. (2020). Physiological Reviews. Retrieved from https://journals.physiology.org/doi/abs/10.1152/physrev.1922.214.171.1243
Cong, Y., Wu, Y., Shen, S., Liu, X., & Guo, J. (2020). A Structure‐Activity Relationship between the Veratrum Alkaloids on the Antihypertension and DNA Damage Activity in Mice. Chemistry & Biodiversity, 17(2). doi:10.1002/cbdv.201900473 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/cbdv.201900473
Yuanhong Shang, S. (2018). Antitumor Activity of Isosteroidal Alkaloids from the Plants in the Genus Veratrum and Fritillaria. Current Protein & Peptide Science, 19(3), 302-310. Retrieved from http://www.eurekaselect.com/149041/article
Tang, J., Li, H., Shen, Y., Jin, H., Yan, S., & Liu, X. et al. (2009). Antitumor and antiplatelet activity of alkaloids from veratrum dahuricum. Phytotherapy Research, n/a-n/a. doi:10.1002/ptr.3022 https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/ptr.3022
Dumlu, F., Aydin, T., Odabasoglu, F., Berktas, O., Kutlu, Z., & Erol, H. et al. (2019). Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of jervine, a sterodial alkaloid from rhizomes of Veratrum album. Phytomedicine, 55, 191-199. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2018.06.035 https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S094471131830223X?via%3Dihub