Tuesday, June 8, 2010
the ghostly lenten rose and fern!
aka: Christe Herbe, Christmas Rose, Melampode, Black or White Hellebore
Hellebores look like members of the rose family but they are actually members of the buttercup family. These two families are very similar in appearance but they have two important differences. Most members of the rose family are edible, or at least harmless. Most members of the buttercup family are poisonous, or at least mildly toxic
Ancient herbals distinguish between Black Hellebore and White Hellebore. White Hellebore has been identified by modern scholars as a plant now known as False Hellebore. Black Hellebore, on the other hand has been identified as Helleborus officianalis, a native of Greece and Asia Minor. The genus name, Helleborus comes from the Greek elein, meaning "to injur" and bora, meaning "food" alluding to the plant's poisonous nature. Melampodium, an old name for Hellebore, refers to the ancient physician Melampus who used Hellebore to cure the daughters of the king of Argos of the madness of the maenads. Where they drunk? Did the herb make them vomit themselves sober? Some have speculated that Alexander the Great died of Hellebore poisoning while being treated for an illness. In Christian lore, the first Hellebore grew from the spot where a little girl's tear dropped onto the snow because she had no gift for the Christ child. According to some sources, Hellebore was an ingredient in the legendary "flying ointment". Before gathering in the forest for a Sabbat, many witches applied "flying ointment" on their bodies. According to ancient lore, this ointment enables the witch to fly through the air, often accompanying the goddess Diana through the night sky. Like the Christmas rose it is a poisonous plant and in medieval times its black roots were believed to have magical properties!
an excerpt from beverley nichols, garden open tomorrow
for person psychic, eerie, and inclined to believe in ghosts -- quite evidently this is not the sort of definition that you will find in the learned botanical journals, and it may need a word of explanation. so let us paint a picture. if you were to wander up the drive to sir frederick’s house and creep into his garden, during any day from january to may, you would find yourself surrounded in the shadows by drifts of those flowers that -- to me at any rate -- will always be the ghost flowers of nature’s kingdom, the hellebores. pale and wan, in every ethereal tint, from the waxen innocence of the christmas rose to the exquisite decadence of the helleborus foetidus. floral anthropomorphism is a habit to be discouraged in serious gardening, but is it so wrong to see people and as flowers? wrong or right, this is a habit from which i cannot disengage myself. and really, it is not so wildly fanciful to see the hellebores as ghost flowers. they seek the shadows, they are creatures of the dark days when the winds sigh through the bare branches; and -- alas -- when you bring them into the house, and surround them with the warmth of human companionship, they swoon and fade away. everybody knows the christmas rose, helleborus niger, and most people know the common form of the other hellebores, which bears the pretty country name of lenten lilies. however, comparatively few people are aware that the hellebore family come in so many dresses, pale jade flushed with purple, deep chocolate, pale pink flounced with leaves of marble green. all of them thrive in chalk. why not? they are ghost flowers -- at least, that is my contention -- and it is only proper that they should thrive on an ectoplasmic diet...