Black Hellebore - In the Garden - February

Plant Magic: A Year of Green Wisdom for Pagans & Wiccans - Sandra Kynes 2017

Black Hellebore
In the Garden

(Helleborus niger)

*Also known as Christmas rose

Black hellebore is a bushy, clump-forming perennial. Its glossy, dark green leaves are deeply lobed and lance shaped. The white flowers are cup shaped with overlapping petals. While it may seem odd that a plant with white flowers has the word black in its name, it was so called because of the color of its roots.

This plant’s genus name was derived from the Greek helein, meaning “to take away,” and bora, “food.” 14 This describes its use in the ancient world to induce vomiting. Black hellebore is very toxic if taken internally, and it is a skin irritant. Even bruised leaves can cause severe dermatitis. Needless to say, wear gloves if you handle it, and more importantly, don’t grow it in your garden if you have children.

With all that said, why grow it? This plant has a long history with witchcraft and sorcery. The Greeks and Romans used it to bless cattle and to keep them free from spells. In the Middle Ages, the roots were considered magical and strewn on floors to banish evil spirits. In addition to warding-off witches, it was believed to be used by witches for placing hexes and for enabling them to fly. In France it was believed that sorcerers would grind the roots into a powder and scatter it in the air to render them invisible.

In addition to historical links, another reason to grow black hellebore is that this plant seems to defy winter. Although not traditionally associated with Cailleach, draw a circle on the ground around your black hellebore as you say three times:

Cailleach, great crone of winter, mother of darkness whose stories are told, bless this plant, keep safe my garden; protect us through the storms and cold.

Black hellebore is associated with the element water. Its astrological influence comes from the planet Saturn and the fixed star Algol.