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Veratrum viride - Aiton.

Common Name Indian Poke, American Hellebore
Family Melanthiaceae
USDA hardiness 3-7
Known Hazards All parts of the plant are highly poisonous[1, 4, 19, 62, 65]. After the plant dies down in the autumn and has been frosted, the toxins decrease and the plant becomes harmless to animals[212].
Habitats Swamps, moist meadows and low ground[21].
Range Eastern N. America - New England to Georgia and Wisconsin, western from Alaska to Oregon.
Edibility Rating    (1 of 5)
Other Uses    (2 of 5)
Weed Potential No
Medicinal Rating    (2 of 5)
Care (info)
Fully Hardy Moist Soil Wet Soil Semi-shade Full sun
Veratrum viride Indian Poke, American Hellebore

Veratrum viride Indian Poke, American Hellebore


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Physical Characteristics

 icon of manicon of flower
Veratrum viride is a PERENNIAL growing to 2 m (6ft 7in).
See above for USDA hardiness. It is hardy to UK zone 3. It is in flower from July to August. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees, flies, Lepidoptera (Moths & Butterflies).
Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: mildly acid, neutral and basic (mildly alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist or wet soil.

UK Hardiness Map US Hardiness Map


Plant Habitats

Woodland Garden Sunny Edge; Dappled Shade; Bog Garden;

Edible Uses

One report says that the leaves have been used in soups[257]. The plant is highly toxic, so this use is probably best avoided[K].

References   More on Edible Uses

Medicinal Uses

Plants For A Future can not take any responsibility for any adverse effects from the use of plants. Always seek advice from a professional before using a plant medicinally.
Analgesic  Diaphoretic  Emetic  Expectorant  Febrifuge  Hypotensive  Narcotic  Sedative

Indian poke is a highly toxic plant that was widely employed medicinally by several native North American Indian tribes who used it mainly externally in the treatment of wounds, pain etc[257]. It is rarely used in modern herbalism, though it is of potential interest because it contains steroidal and other alkaloids and chelidonic acid. Some of these alkaloids lower blood pressure and dilate the peripheral vessels - they have, for example, been used in conventional medicine to treat high blood pressure and rapid heart beat[207, 212, 254]. Any use of this plant should be carried out with great caution and preferably only under the supervision of a qualified practitioner[21]. Even when applied externally to unbroken skin it has been known to cause side-effects[254]. See also the notes above on toxicity The root is analgesic, diaphoretic, emetic. expectorant, febrifuge, narcotic and sedative[4, 21, 257]. It has been used in the treatment of acute cases of pneumonia, peritonitis and threatened apoplexy[244]. A decoction of the root has been used in the treatment of chronic coughs and constipation[257]. A portion of the root has been chewed, or a decoction used, in the treatment of stomach pain[257]. The roots are harvested in the autumn and can be dried for later use[254]. The root has been used to make a skin wash and compresses for bruises, sprains and fractures[257]. The powdered root has been applied as a healing agent to wounds[207] and as a delousing agent[254]. The stems have been scraped and the powder snuffed to induce sneezing[257]. An infusion of the leaves has been used as a wash to treat aches and pains[257]. The plant is used in homeopathic preparations to slow the heart rate[254].

References   More on Medicinal Uses

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Other Uses

Cleanser  Fibre  Insecticide

The dried and powdered root is used as an insecticide and a parasiticide[46, 61, 212]. It is also effective against caterpillars and mammals so great caution is advised[1, 19, 20]. The roots have been grated, then added to the laundry water and used to clean clothing[257]. A fibre obtained from the stem is used for weaving wallets etc[99].

Special Uses

References   More on Other Uses

Cultivation details

Requires a deep fertile moisture retentive humus-rich soil[200]. Succeeds in full sun if the soil does not dry out but prefers a position in semi-shade[200]. Dislikes dry soils, preferring to grow in a bog garden[42]. Grows best in a cool woodland garden or a north facing border[42]. Members of this genus are rarely if ever troubled by browsing deer[233]. Plants are long-lived and can be left in the same position for years without attention[233]. In some N. American Indian tribes, following the death of a chief, all the young aspirants to be chief were given a drink of this toxic plant and the person least affected was deemed to be the strongest and therefore made chief[200].

References   Carbon Farming Information and Carbon Sequestration Information

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Plant Propagation

Unless stored in damp sand at around 4°c the seed has a short viability[200]. Where possible it is best to sow the seed in a lightly shaded position in the greenhouse as soon as it is ripe[200]. Stored seed needs to be stratified but can be very slow to germinate. Germination can be erratic even for seed sown when it was fresh, it usually takes place within 3 - 12 months at 15°c but can be much longer[200]. The plant produces just one seedleaf in its first year, this forms an over-wintering bulb. It takes up to 10 years for the plant to reach maturity[200]. Sow the seed thinly so there is no need to thin or transplant them, and grow the seedlings on undisturbed in the pot for their first two years of growth. Apply a liquid feed at intervals through the growing season to ensure the plants do not become nutrient deficient. At the end of the second year plant out the dormant plants into individual pots and grow them on in light shade in the greenhouse for a further year or two before planting them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer. Division in March/April or in October. Establish the plants in pots in a shaded frame before planting them out[200]. Division is best carried out in the autumn because the plants come into growth very early in the spring[233]. Root cuttings, 6mm long with a bud, rooted in a sandy soil in a cold frame[200].

Other Names

If available other names are mentioned here

Weed Potential

Right plant wrong place. We are currently updating this section. Please note that a plant may be invasive in one area but may not in your area so it’s worth checking.

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List of Threatened Plants Status :

Related Plants
Latin NameCommon NameHabitHeightHardinessGrowthSoilShadeMoistureEdibleMedicinalOther
Veratrum albumWhite Hellebore, White false helleborePerennial1.5 4-8  LMHSNM022
Veratrum californicumCalifornia False HelleborePerennial2.5 4-8  LMHSNM022
Veratrum maackii parviflorum Perennial1.0 -  LMHSNM112
Veratrum nigrumBlack HelleborePerennial1.5 5-9  LMHSNM012

Growth: S = slow M = medium F = fast. Soil: L = light (sandy) M = medium H = heavy (clay). pH: A = acid N = neutral B = basic (alkaline). Shade: F = full shade S = semi-shade N = no shade. Moisture: D = dry M = Moist We = wet Wa = water.


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Botanical References


Links / References

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Readers comment

   Thu Aug 31 2006

i eat it all the time i just keep it in the freezer

Choybalsan   Sat Feb 10 2007

Veratrum viride aka false hellebore, I see black cohosh is also listed as false hellebore. So i'm thinking is there a connection? True hellebore "li lu" is often contraindicated to use with aconites fu zi, cao wu and wu tou. They are all baneful herbs. But sheng ma raises the yang and assits the raising of other yang rising herbs. In this case these are very hot herbs. Li lu with the other raw aconite types and mandrake and belladonna would be overkill to put it lightly. Sheng ma is also listed in one book on blood disorders to be used with Huang Bai in 50-50 ratio with Sheng ma to treat ATONY. This is basically being used to treat severe atrophy syndrome of lower limbs including the classification of muscular distrophy. Along with the aformentioned yellow, there is also huang liang which kills wu tou's toxicity. This is interesting because sheng ma is cool, no hot property. I think this sheng ma is a safer (with none of the baneful heat) version of veratrum viride which it can be mistaken for by name. These others you can detox by boiling for several hours, also with vinegar, but with veratrum viride the toxin is killed by frost? So freezing this makes it safer? Interesting no? The others are hot, this one has opposite effect of belladonna on nervous system. Can freezing of dry roots detox? Please inform.

Sheng ma, Bugbane Shengma possibly safer version of veratrum viride

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