Emergence of Hellebores sign we are turning corner

Gary Rycroft.
Gary Rycroft.

Here’s hoping the fleeting flurry of snow at the beginning of March was the last gasp of winter and spring is now on it’s way.

For me a sure sign we are turning a corner is the emergence of hellebores in the garden.

The toxicity of hellebores was used to the advantage of the Ancient Greeks at the Seige of Kirrha in 585BC in what is an early example of chemical warfare

There are around 20 species of hellebore, an evergreen perennial flowering plant.

Some are called Christmas Rose, others Lenten Rose, though they are no relation to the rose family and are in fact related to buttercups.

In my garden we do not see them at Christmas, but rather it is the Lenten Rose (Helleborus Orientalis) which pops up at this time of year.

They look wonderfully exotic and do not at all conjure up notions of solemn religious observance, penitence and abstinence usually associated with Lent.

But sometimes beautiful things can be dangerous and with hellebores abstinence would be a good idea.

Deer living in woodland know this very well and do not eat them.

The toxicity of hellebores was used to the advantage of the Ancient Greeks at the Seige of Kirrha in 585BC in what is an early example of chemical warfare.

The invading Greek army used the crushed leaves of hellebores to contaminate the water supply to the city.

The unfortunate inhabitants of Kirrha drank the poisoned water and were overcome by diarrhoea. At which point the Greeks over ran the city – whilst the locals were still running to the loo.

It is also alleged Alexander the Great died after an overdose of hellebore in his drinking cup administered by an enemy who had infiltrated his personal staff.

Yet it’s interesting that one man’s poison can be another man’s cure and today the root of the Christmas Rose (Helleborus Niger) is an the active ingredient in medicine used to treat cardiovascular disease.

A reminder, that if only we look hard enough, Mother Nature has already solved many of man’s ailments.

So hellebores are certainly worth a closer inspection, though not consumption.