Helleborus niger, commonly called Christmas rose or black hellebore, is an evergreen perennial flowering plant in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. It is poisonous.Although the flowers resemble wild roses, Christmas rose does not belong to the rose family.The name Christmas rose was given it in the Middle Ages because it flowered at Christmas time. The name niger is due to its black underground stalk.
The Helleborus niger has white, or occassionally pink flowers. In the wild, Helleborus niger grows in hilly terrain woodlands in middle and southern Europe. It is also found in the Alps and in the edge of the Appenines. The plant is a traditional cottage garden favourite, because it flowers in the depths of winter; large-flowered cultivars are available, as are pink-flowered and double-flowered selections. Helleborus niger contains ranunculin, which has an acid taste and can cause burning of the eyes, mouth and throat, oral ulceration, gastroenteritis and hematemesis.
Medicinal history: Its dried and grated root could make people sneeze, which supposedly cleared the brain, and the root was used in treating epilepsy, lack of balance and paralysis. the substance helleborin was used in heart diseases, weakness, melencholy, but caused by its poisonousness it is today only used in the homoeopathy or only obtained on prescription.
Superstition: In a French Catholic Christmas play from the Middle Ages are the three wise men/the three kings and a peasant girl Madelon. While the kings came with costy gifts for the Christ child, Madelon had none, and she cries, but an angel's wings touch the frozen ground, and a Christmas rose sprouts up . It was a Greek shepherd Melampos, who used the plant as a medicinal herb for the first time. He cured king Perseus' two daughters from their mental disturbances.The healing qualities could chase madness and evil spirits out from a human being; in the Middle Ages it was extended into general abilities of chasing evil spirits and sickness away. Also in the Middle Ages, people strewed the flowers on the floors of their homes to drive out evil influences. They blessed their animals with it and used it to ward off the power of witches. These same people believed, however, that witches employed the herb in their spells and that sorcerers tossed the powdered herb into the air around them to make themselves invisible. The Christmas rose was planted at the entrance of the house, and if an animal got sick, a piece of the plant was put into its ears.
A Maria-song: An old Christmas song from the 1500s, a Maria-song, was written when a monk was sent up to a prince in the mountains - and there in the prince's garden he was given a beautiful Christmas rose by a pretty young girl. The song is said to have been created on 24. December 1509, and the great church composer Michael Prætorius wrote the beautiful melody.(Dansk: En rose så jeg skyde)
photo ⓒ Forsthaven 2009: grethe bachmann