Veratrum viride

Indian Hellebore

Indian hellebore is one of the most violently poisonous plants on the Northwest Coat, a fact recognized by all indigenous groups. This plant was, and still is, highly respected, for even to eat a small portion of it would result in loss of consciousness, followed by death. It is sometimes known as 'skookum' root, the Chinook jargon for 'strong, powerful.' This plant was an important and respected medicine, used by most northwest coast groups. The Tlingit used an Indian-hellebore medicine for colds. The Nisga'a used small quantities of the root for toothache. There is one report of a Haisla who was cured of tuberculosis by placing a lozenge of dried Indian-hellebore root under his tongue for a day. It is said that his face went numb, but he recovered. The Haida made a poultice for sprains, bruises, and rashes, and a medicine for colds. It was believed almost any disease could be cured with Indian hellebore. The Haida also treated kidney and bladder troubles and acute fevers with this plant. The Nuxalk made preparations for chronic coughs, gonorrhea, constipation, stomach pains, chest pains, heart trouble and for toothache or rotting teeth. The Kwakwak'wakw made medicinal preparations for constipation, internal back and chest pains, colds and to abort pregnancy. The Nuu-chah-nulth rubbed the mashed root on sores or rheumatic areas to stop pain, and as a general liniment. Among the Coast Salish this plant was utilized by the Quinalt, Squamish, Sechelt, Mainland Comox, Southern Vancouver Island Salish and other groups for similar cures. Some species of this genus are powdered to form the garden insecticide 'hellebore.' People who drink water in which hellebore is growing have reported stomach cramps. Other symptoms of hellebore poisoning include frothing at the mouth, blurred vision, 'lockjaw,' vomiting and diarrhea. - Jim Pojar, Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast