Definitions

Helleborus niger

Helleborus niger

Helleborus niger (Christmas Rose) is a plant in the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae.

Description

Helleborus niger is a herbaceous plant with basal, palmate leaves on short stems. The flowers are white, borne in winter. It is a very toxic plant, contrary to medieval belief that it had medicinal properties.
In antiquity the most famous place for the black hellebore was the Phokian city of Antikyra in Greece.

One subspecies blooms at the abbey in England believed by some to have been established by St. Thomas. There is a source that claims it blooms near the new calendar date of January 6. This date had been Christmas day under the old Julian calendar. So when Christmas day under the new calendar came around and the flower did not bloom, it was such a frightful omen that England did not adopt the Gregorian calendar at that time in 1588; adoption had to wait until 1751.

In the Middle Ages, people strewed the flowers on the floors of their homes to drive out evil influences. They blessed their animals with it and used it to ward off the power of witches. These same people believed, however, that witches employed the herb in their spells and that sorcerers tossed the powdered herb into the air aruond them to make themselves invisible.

References

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