False Hellebore

What is it?
First Aid

What is false hellebore?

Young false hellebore photo by Lindsey (Flickr user eccentricvirgo), Creative Commons 2.0. This plant is harmful to eat.

False hellebore is one of many common names given to the highly poisonous plant Veratrum viride. It is also known as Indian poke, Indian hellebore and American white hellebore, among other names.

False hellebore is a perennial that grows wildly in wet soils throughout the U.S., especially on the East Coast and in the Northwest. It grows 2-8 feet tall with a thick green stem, large, ribbed leaves and hairy, star-shaped flowers.

False hellebore is sometimes mistaken for wild leeks, also known as ramps (Allium tricoccum). These edible wild plants grow in the same areas as false hellebore, and false hellebore leaves sometimes look similar for a couple weeks early in the spring. Unlike ramps, false hellebore leaves are ribbed or pleated and false hellebore does not smell like onions. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry has some good photos of wild leeks.

Eating false hellebore is very harmful. If you are picking wild plants to eat, be sure you know what they are. Consider looking into classes offered by a trusted local organization.

What are the symptoms of eating false hellebore?

Eating false hellebore can be dangerous, and most people who eat it will need treatment at a hospital, frequently overnight.

The effects of eating false hellebore appear between 30 minutes and 4 hours after eating the plant. They often start with severe nausea and vomiting.

They then move on to slowed heartbeat and a drop in blood pressure.

Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Slowed breathing
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Numbness and tingling
  • Sweating
  • Drooling

What should I do if someone has eaten false hellebore?

If someone has eaten false hellebore, do not wait for symptoms to appear. Contact the poison center right away—call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text poison to 85511.

In most cases, someone who has eaten false hellebore will need to go to the hospital. The poison center will advise the hospital staff on how best to treat the patient.

How can I prevent false hellebore poisonings?

  • Only pick wild plants to eat if you are sure you know what they are. If you are interested in foraging, consider taking a class through a trusted local organization.
  • Know what plants are on your property. If you have false hellebore or other poisonous plants around your home, consider removing them, especially if you have young children or pets.

Last Updated: Thursday April 19th 2018