Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Hellebores as vermicides

In 1640 John Parkinson recorded that stinking hellebore [Helleborus foetidus] was used as a purge to rid children of intestinal worms, but he considered it to be so violent that only country people were sufficiently robust to stand its strength [1].

In February 1762 it was reported:

Two young children died at Fisherton Anger [Wiltshire] in a few hours after eating some bears foot [hellebore], a plant recommended against worms. There are two sorts of the plant: 1. Two feet high. dark leaves and whitish flowers a little purpled at the edge, now in flower [stinking hellebore] – this is poisonous: 2. A low plant not afoot high with fish-green leaves and green flowers [H. viridis, green hellebore. This is good against worms [2].

Almost a century later, it was recorded that on the Isle of Wight stinking hellebore:

is often seen in cottage-gardens, being a rustic remedy for worms in children, but the employment of so violent a medicine has too often been followed by serious consequences, and its use is now abandoned in regular practice [3].

1. D.E. Allen & G. Hatfield, Medicinal Plants in Folk Tradition, Portland, Oregon, 2004: 70.
2. Wiltshire Family History Society Journal 46: 6, 1992; thanks to Derek Froome who brought this to our attention.
3. W.A. Bromfield, Flora Vectensis, London, 1856: 15.

Image: South London Botanical Institute garden, London Borough of Lambeth; April 2014.