The plant is toxic and has been one source of the poison for poison-tipped arrows and darts. "Don't try this at home," as they say.
King Attalus III, the last Attalid king of Pergamum, loved the study of medicine, the sciences and gardening more than the responsibilities of being a king. (Others prefer golf or other diversions.) In fact this resulted in Pergamum "going downs the tubes" and being found under the heavy hand of Rome.
In his gardens King Attalus III grew, among other flowers, four "classic poisons": hellebore, hemlock, aconite and nightshade. He was called "Mad King Attalus" by his detractors; however, many other royals of the past enjoyed the sciences and studied far into the night rather than reigning, partying, spending tax monies on themselves, and waging war as true royalty are wont to do.*
Pergamum was one of the seven churches to which the Apostle John wrote in the book of Revelation--see chapter 2:12-17.
Helebore is often called hellebores. It is native to western and eastern Europe and further around the Mediterranean Sea.
A Greek legend tells of a powerful seer named Melampus. He used the hellebores to cure the madness of the daughters of King Proetus. These dear girls, and other Greek young women, lost their beautiful long, glistening black hair and roamed wildly through the mountains of Tiryns thinking of themselves as cows. Tiryns is southeast of Corinth. And to think that many today think that many teenagers go wild now. "There is nothing new under the sun" King Solomon wrote.
Melampus and his brother, Bias, received 2/3 of King Proetus' kingdom in gratitude for saving his daughters and then he gave his daughters to the Melampus and Bias for brides. The writer has not found how many daughters the king had to distribute to the two brothers. Surely they lived happily ever after; they always do in stories that begin with the words "Once upon a time..."
One other plant and flower that is poisonous is the oleander. When one sucks nectar from flowers or chews its leaves, or eats honey made by bees that have pollinated oleander, there are many possible unpleasant or miserable side effects.
* Another example of this is the emperor of the Roman Emperor named Commodus who was "more interested in pleasures than in his imperial duties." -- Wil Durant
FALSE HELLEBORE or CORN LILY (Veratrum californicum) is found high in moist areas of the mountains and on ranges in our western states. It is also found in similar areas of Europe. It should not be confused with the hellegbore mentioned above in blue.
Eating it can caused severe poisoning in sheep, cattle and goats, as well as humans. If a pregnant animal eats false hellebore deformities in the offspring can result. It is poisonous from the time that it emerges until the time it is killed by frost. The roots are 5-10 times as poisonous as the leaves. It does not resemble the above mentioned hellebores; it has its flower in a high stalk.
Cyclopia is a rare form of birth defect characterized by the failure of the embryonic prosencephalon to properly divide the orbits of the eye into two cavities. This can result in an infant with only one eye socket and one eye. One cause is the teratogenic alkaloid toxin found in the plant.
If this is ingested during pregnancy, rather than the other hellebore that is often recommended as a natural treament of vomiting, cramps, poor circulation conditions quite common in pregnant women, deformities can result. Babies have been born with only one eye in the middle of their forehead, but lived one day, at the most.
Many people are familiar with the Cyclops found in Homer's Odyssey. The Cyclops was one of several one-eyed giants mentioned in the story. they raised sheep to eat whole, and captured many of Odysseus' sailors and ate them whole. Many believed that the idea of a giant with one eye formed in the wonderful Greek imagination of Homer who was aware that some infants had been born with one eye in the middle of their foreheads.
Herodotus, born 484 B.C., wrote THE HISTORY (of the world up to his time so it would not be lost). This is a wonderful source of history. However, he occasionally has a creative bent. in book III, 116 he wrote: "The story runs that the one-eyed Arimaspi purloin it (stole gold) from the griffins; but here too I am incredulous, and cannot persuade myself that there is a race of men born with one eye, who in all else resemble the rest of mankind."
If you believe what he was told you may choose to think about the sheep he talked about that had long tails for which the shepherds made little trucks for the sheep's tails so they will not be injured dragging the ground. Or, perhaps, the fact of great ants slightly smaller than dogs, or the camels with four thigh-bones and four knee joints.