There are many popular names of Helleborus such as Christmas Rose, Snow Rose, oracle flower or “Hellebore” that have long mythical traditions. The origin of these names can be traced to both scientific and historical traditions.
The name “Hellebore” relate to the fact that small particles of the plant can stimulate sneezing. The ingredient Protoanemonin in the hellebores causes sneezing. In lore it is believed that people use these particles to ‘sneeze out’ evil spirits. This procedure was dangerous because of the toxicity of hellebores. Looking into the origin of the name Hellebores one can see that it is made up of two Greek words. The Greek word helein means killing and the word bora means food. For sure -none of these practices are recommended. And caution must be exercised with children.
This name is derived in mythology as well.
Mythology states that a poor shepherd was travelling to Bethlehem. He did not have a present for the Christ child. He did not find any flowers on his travels because it was winter. The shepherd was sad and he wept. Myth has it that as the tears touched the ground flowers as beautiful as roses sprung from the ground. The flowers were hellebores. The shepherd took these Christmas Roses and brought them to the Christ child as his present.
The name Oracle flower comes because it was thought at one time that the Christmas Rose was used to predict the weather. In the countryside people cut twelve flowers on Christmas Eve and placed them in a vase. Each flower symbolized the weather for one month of the following year. The forecast was based on whether or not the flowers opened or not. Closed flowers indicated bad weather and open flowers indicated good weather.
Using in the ancient world up to this day
In ancient times the Christmas Rose was used as medicine. Hippocrates used Helleborus as a purgative and diuretic agent. It was also used to ward off mental diseases.
Witches in medieval times used the Christmas Rose to make salves that were thought to bring on the fountain of youth. It was also felt that if one dispersed the powder of Christmas Rose on the ground it could make one invisible.
In the year 600 B.C. the Christmas Rose was used as a form of biological weapon that helped win a war! In this war the city of Kirrha was besieged by the Athenians under the leadership of Solon. Solon redirected the river Pleisthenes which supplied the drinking water for the citizens. For some time thereafter, the citizens used rain and well water for drinking. The water ran out and Solon issued an order to put the roots of hellebores into the river. The toxins from the roots were absorbed into the water. The river was then redirected back into the original riverbed. The people drank the water not knowing of the toxins. They got so sick that it was easy for the Athenians to conquer Kirrha.
Today the roots of Helleborus niger are used in human medicine for cardiovascular diseases. The operative ingredient is Helebrin.