Veratrum Album…physiological action
Meera D

Dr. J. Anusha BHMS
House Surgeon
White Memorial Homoeopathy Medical College
Attoor, Kanyakumari District


     Veratrum album has a paralyzing effect on the nervous system, and is scarcely ever used internally, though the alkaloids it contains are used in the pharmaceutical industry. Though all parts of the plant are highly poisonous, it is the rhizome that is used mostly. The dried root, as it occurs in pharmacy, has a faint, unpleasant odor, and a sweetish, bitter, intensely disagreeable and permanently acrid taste, leaving the tongue tingling and numb. It serves occasionally externally as a local analgesic, but even this is not without its dangers since it can be absorbed through broken skin.

     It contains an amorphous alkaloid, Veratralbine. Veratrum albums alkaloids act as a very violent and irritant poison, causing severe coryza, when sniffed up into the nostrils. When swallowed, it causes sore mouth, swelling of the tongue, gastric heat, and burning, severe vomiting, and often-profuse diarrhea. Vertigo, weakness, and tremors of the extremities, feeble pulse, loss of voice, dilatation of pupils, spasms of the ocular muscles, blindness, cold sweating, and mental disturbances are also produced.

     When it proves fatal, narcotic symptoms, such as prolonged stupor and convulsions, are evident. Gastro-intestinal inflammation has also been produced by it. When not fatal, distressing precordial oppression persists for some time, and produces nervous and spasmodic symptoms and prolonged debility. The poison may be treated by drinks and injections of coffee, stimulants to overcome the depressed condition of the heart and arteries, and opiates and demulcents to relieve internal inflammation.

     Veratrum album is, in minute doses, efficient in bowel disorders, with gushing, watery diarrhea with spasmodic or cramp-like action of the intestines, cold face, sunken eyes; and a body covered with cold sweat. That is why it used to be employed in cholera infantum, cholera morbus, in both of which it also checks the vomiting, and in Asiatic cholera as well.

     Today it is rarely used, except as an external application to kill lice, and cure scabies and some other cutanous affections: the root contains ‘pyrethrums’, (Greek from purethron: “feverfew”) an insecticide and parasiticide, usually made from the dried flower heads of Chrysanthemum cinerariifolium or C. coccineu, hence Verartum album’s role is a forerunner of pesticides in ancient Rome and Greece. Pyrethrums are also effective against caterpillars and mammals, so great caution is advised.

     Hellebore is one of the four classic poisons (the other three being deadly nightshade, hemlock, and aconite). The name Hellebore comes from the Greek “elein” meaning to injure, and “bora” meaning food.

     On the 26th of June, 1812, Hahnemann presented a Latin thesis, entitled:

     “A Medical Historical Dissertation on the Helleborism of the Ancients.” (Published in Hahnemann : “Lesser Writings”, New -York, -1852, page -56-9.)

     His son Frederick acted as the respondent, The thesis was a marvel of research and erudition, concerning the white Hellebore of the ancients, which will be proved to be identical with the Veratrum album of the present.

     The use of Hellebore dates back, when it was used as a purgative to “cleanse the mind of all perverse habits”. Gerard, in his famous “Herbal”, found a use for Hellebore that is of particular interest to Goths. “A purgation of Hellebore is good for mad and furious men, for melancholy, dull and heavy persons, and briefly for all those that are troubled with black cholera and molested with melancholy.” Hellebore is found in writings through the ages, from the ancient Greeks through the middle Ages, when it was used by herbalists. It has been used for animal ailments, to bless animals and keep them from evil spirits, to repel flies, to “purge the veins of melancholy, and cheer the heart”, or even in one superstition to make oneself invisible if scattered in the air.

     King Attalus III was one of the greatest poison fanciers in history, and he had a particular fondness for Hellebore, since the poison “racked the nerves and caused the victim to swell” and Hellebore is stated to have been one of the principal poisons used in Europe for arrows, daggers, etc.

     Hahnemann said about Veratrum Album: “Physicians have no notion of the power possessed by this drug to promote a cure of almost one-third of the insane in lunatic asylums (at all events as a homeopathic intermediate remedy) because they know not the peculiar kind of insanity in which to employ it, nor the dose in which it should be administered in order to be efficacious and yet not injurious."

     The main characteristics of an individual in need of Veratrum Album are just like they appear in poisonings with the plant: Pale face, sunken expression, cold sweat, icy cold body, diarrhea and excessive vomiting and purging, convulsions with cerebral congestion, paralytic weakness and loss of power with violence of reactions to pain and collapse.

     The mental state will be found somewhere between despair and rage: The tendency to quiet delirium is stronger than to manic, delirious states, the latter being greatly dependent on the pain that is felt by the patient: As long as a Veratrum Album patient is not triggered in any way, he will most likely remain in apathy, taciturn or anxious depression , but attacks of severe pain may drive him to despair or even rage, same applies to the way his fellow men approach him.