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Dear Sir or Madam,
I recently took some hellebore flower heads in May and removed the seeds by hand. Before I had finished, I noticed an increasing pain under the finger nails and on the skin of terminal phalanges. I ceased the operation and washed. There was no abatement of the pain, which continued for the rest of the day. In subsequent three days, the affected skin became numb and thickened and finally peeled away leaving no further problem.
I undertook this process after listening to Gardener’s World which advocated admittedly leaving the flowerheads in a paper envelope until the seeds fall out, but there was no mention of toxicity.
I have since the event looked hellebores up on the net.
Wikipedia says: “… plant is highly toxic, containing veratrine and the teratogens cyclopamine and jervine,..”
Are these alkaline or acidic? Should there not be a warning about this? I can’t be the only gardener wanting to propogate hellebores.
Thanks. Paul Baly



Welcome to GOY. I think if you follow the advice from GW then you can safely propogate your hellebores. You have found out the hard way that advice is given to be taken as is. It is up to each of us to take care when handling unknowns in the garden. I leave my hellebores to self seed, based on the theory that plants will succeed where their parents are happy. I then transplant the seedlings when they are big enough. Sorry I cannot help with the acid/alkanine part of your question. It is helpful that you have published your experience here as a warning to others of the potential risk to them too.

6 Jul, 2010


Have to say I have been taking the seeds from various Hellebores for years without any skin problems occuring. You must be unlucky or sensitive to one of the 'nasties'.
To be honest these days I let the seeds fall where they will and dig up the baby plants when they are a reasonable size.
Anyway, back to your problem with the seeds, I wear surgical gloves to do most things involving soil/compost (I end up with very dry , cracked skin otherwise) so perhaps that would be the way forward for you.

6 Jul, 2010



6 Jul, 2010


I know that some people are sensitive to hellebore seeds but, fortunately, I am not one of them. I think that this is something that only affects a small number of people and the only way to find out if you are one of them is to try it out.
I don't wear any protection on my hands in the garden unless I am handling prickly stuff like holly leaves. As Owdboggy suggests, try wearing surgical gloves in future.

6 Jul, 2010


veratrine is an alkaloid compound that in very small quantities has been used as rhuematism treatments. Jervine is also an alkaloid compound. cyclopamine is another similar compound and is being reseached as a possible cancer treatment.
Many common plants contain toxic chemicals and provide the basis of many commercial drugs.

If you are sensitive then wearing gloves needs to be the norm.

6 Jul, 2010

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