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This flower was well known since ancient times and held in high esteem for its claimed medicinal properties. The history of the introduction of this vegetable in popular pharmacology is lost in the darkness of the times. In a fable it is said that a shepherd named Melampus, who was at the same time a doctor and a fortune-teller, having observed that his flock was purging when he ate Elleboro, thought of using it as a medicine even in the diseases of men. With this "miraculous" medicine, he could heal the madness that had struck the daughters of Preto, king of Argos, who were believed to have been turned into cows. He was called "Purgatore", an honorary title: he obtained the wedding ring of one of them, a part of the kingdom of Argo and a nomination for divinity.The Latin poet Horace advised to go for the treatment of madness on the island of Anticipa, in which he grew copiously.F.D.Guerrazzi in the cap. XXVI of the "Siege of Florence" exclaimed: "Ah, historian, instead of spending in ink bought Hellebore, you are crazy."The medical virtues of this plant were exaggerated.Carneade used it before writing to Zeno.Gabriele D'Annunzio in "La figlia di Iorio" reiterates it in a poetic key: "Go in search of the black hellebore that makes sense to this creature."Today in India this plant is burned beside the bed of women in labor, to hasten childbirth and because the spirit of the gods enters the mind of the newborn.In fairly recent times it has been banned from pharmacies, considered a highly toxic plant.General features Hellebore
All the species, around 16, belonging to this genus come from Europe, the Middle East and some also from China. Many are those that can be found spontaneously in our country. The most known are: the h. niger, the h. foetidus, the h. viridis, the h. odorus and (only in the islands of the Tyrrhenian) the h. corsicus.
They can generally be divided into two distinct groups. Most are characterized by leaves and inflorescences that emerge separately from the collar. The maximum height in this case rarely exceeds 45 cm. These are very long-lived plants.
The others (for example H. angustifolius, H. lividus, H. x sterni and H. foetidus) have semi-woody stems, up to 1 m high. The flowers, in bunches, and the leaves sprout from the same stems.
The leaves are the most important organ to distinguish the different types. They are supported by a rather thick stem and are divided into leaflets, which can range from a number of 3 to even 100. The diameter of the leaves is also very variable. In the smaller species it can be even only 7 cm, in the larger ones it can reach half a meter instead.
Generally when young, they are very tender and light in color, but over time they become hard and leathery, jagged at the edges, although in different ways, in all species. The color then becomes a rather dark green.
The flowers are arranged in groups. Sometimes they have a single stem and therefore form bunches, at other times there are only two or three flowers accompanied by small leaves.
The single flower is similar to that of the buttercup. Thanks to hybridization, double shapes and many different types of petal are available, from the simplest to the most jagged.
Usually the corollas look downwards and this is one of the defects to which enthusiasts most frequently refer. In recent years, however, thanks to the research work, many cultivars are available on the market characterized by a more upright growth of the flower and, therefore, more decorative.
Moreover, thanks to the crossings we can buy hellebores now in a very wide range of colors ranging from pure white to pink, red, very intense brown to yellow. Let us not forget, however, shapes with spots or with margins in evidence.
Family and gender
Ranunculaceae, gen. helleborus
|Type of plant||Herbaceous or semi-woody, perennial|
|Exposure||Generally half shade, but also full sun for some species|
|Ground||Rich, well-drained, fresh|
|colors||White, green, pink, red, yellow, dotted, black|
|Irrigation||Regular, especially in summer|
|Flowering||From January to April|
|Composting||Summer, end of winter|