Herbs & Plants

Helleborus foetidus

Botanical Name: Helleborus foetidus
Family: Ranunculaceae
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Ranunculales
Genus: Helleborus
Species: H. foetidus

Common Names: Stinking Hellebore, Setterwort, Bear’s Foot, Bearsfoot, Setterwort, Stinkwort, Stinking Hellebore

Habitat: Helleborus foetidus is native to western and southern Europe, including Britain, from Belgium to Spain and Italy. It grows in tjhe woods, scrub and sunny banks on moist chalk and limestone soils.

Helleborus foetidusis an evergreen perennial plant, growing to 80 cm (31 in) tall and 100 cm (39 in) across, with a thick succulent stem and glossy leaves. The drooping cup-shaped flowers appear in spring, and are yellowish-green, often with a purple edge to the five petal-like sepals on strongly upright stems. The flowers, typically for the family, contain numerous stamens as well as up to ten nectaries which make them attractive to bees and other insects. Each flower produces up to five (usually three) wrinkled follicles. Despite its common name, it is not noticeably malodorous, although the foliage is pungent when crushed.
. It is in flower from February to April, and the seeds ripen from May to June. The species is hermaphrodite (has both male and female organs) and is pollinated by Bees, flies.

Yeasts colonise the nectaries of stinking hellebore and their presence has been found to raise the temperature of the flower, which may aid in attracting pollinators to the flower by increasing the evaporation of volatile organic compounds. It was the first species in which this effect was discovered.


Succeeds in any good garden soil, preferring a moist well-drained rich loam in a sheltered position in partial shade. Plants are suitable for naturalizing in a woodland garden and also succeed in the shade of a north-facing wall. They do not object to lime. Grow well in heavy clay soils. Dislikes drought. The stems live for one or two years, dying after flowering. Slugs are very fond of this plant and it will probably require some protection from them. The various species in this genus hybridize freely. There are some named forms, selected for their ornamental value. The whole plant, especially when bruised, gives off an unpleasant smell that is similar to decaying meat. Plants resent root disturbance and should be placed in their permanent positions whilst still small. A greedy plant, inhibiting the growth of nearby plants, especially legumes. Special Features: Attractive foliage, Not North American native, Naturalizing, All or parts of this plant are poisonous, Suitable for cut flowers, Flowers have an unpleasant odor.

Seed – best sown as soon as it is ripe in a cold frame. Sow stored seed as early in the year as possible, it usually germinates in the autumn to spring. Seed can take 18 months to germinate. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and grow them on in a lightly shaded position in the greenhouse for their first winter. Plant them out into their permanent positions in late spring or early summer, after the last expected frosts. This species produces flowering plants in 2 – 3 years from seed. It is not possible to divide this species, but it is possible to take basal cuttings of young vegetative shoots. Harvest the shoots when they are about 10cm long with plenty of underground stem. Pot them up into individual pots and keep them in light shade in a cold frame or greenhouse until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the summer.

Medicinal Uses:
A very toxic plant that is considered to be useful for reducing blood pressure in various conditions of hypertension. Tthe root contains the alkaloids nervine, pseudo-nervine and veratridine. It is best to harvest the root in the autumn and dry it for later use. This species has similar medicinal properties to the black hellebore, H. niger. These properties are:- Black hellebore is a very poisonous plant that is toxic when taken in all but the smallest doses. As such it should not be taken except under professional supervision. The plant contains cardiac glycosides which have a similar action to the foxglove (Digitalis spp) and it has been used as a heart stimulant for the elderly, though this treatment is no longer recommended. The root is anthelmintic, cardiac, cathartic, diuretic, emetic, emmenagogue, irritant, violently narcotic and a drastic purgative. It is harvested in the autumn and dried for later use. It has been used in the treatment of dropsy, amenorrhoea, nervous disorders and hysteria, but it is very poisonous and great care must be taken over the dosage. The root is also applied externally as a local irritant, but even this should be done with care, see notes above on toxicity. A homeopathic remedy is made from the roots. It is used in the treatment of headaches, psychic disorders, enteritis and spasms.

Other Uses: Landscape Uses:Container, Massing, Rock garden, Woodland garden.

Known Hazards: All parts of the plant are poisonous, containing glycosides. Symptoms of intoxication include violent vomiting and delirium. This poison can possibly be absorbed through the skin.

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider.


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