Black hellebore is called melampodium, since it is said that a goatherd, Melampus, was the first to use it, and with it purged the daughters of Proetus and cured their madness. It has green leaves, similar to those of the plane tree, but smaller, almost like those of the hogweed, somewhat rough, darker, and with the edges more toothed. It has a rough stem, white flowers with shades of purple, growing in clusters, and the seed is like that of the thistle which is called sesamoide in Anticyra and is used as a purge. The roots of the black hellebore, which are of use, are thin and black and grow from a bulb like an onion. It grows on hills and in rugged and dry places. The best quality comes from the places named following here, like Anticyra, where the very best grows. Choose the most fleshy and fullest, with only a little pith, bitter in taste and very hot, like that in Helicon and Parnassus and Aetolia; and the one from Helicon is more excellent than all the others. Black hellebore purges the stomach; taken by itself or with scammony and with three obols or a dram of salt it dissolves phlegm and bile. It is cooked with lentils and broths that are taken as a purge; it is of benefit for epilepsy, for melancholia, and for those who have lost their senses, for joint-pains and paralysis. Applied from below it induces the menstrual cycle and kills the foetus. Applied to fistulas, it is removed after having been left for three consecutive days and so disinfects them. It is also put into the ears to treat deafness, and is not removed for two or three days. Applied as an ointment with incense or wax, pitch or cedar oil, it cures mange; with vinegar it is good for vitiligo, scabies, and rashes. Rinsing the mouth with a decoction of it relieves toothache. It is mixed with corrosive medicines. It is applied as a poultice, with barley flour and wine, onto the bellies of those with dropsy, who derive benefit from it. Planted close to the roots of grape-vines, it makes the wine purgative. It is believed that it purifies houses if its infusion is sprinkled around. Those who harvest it do so standing up, praying and calling for help to Apollo and Aesculapius, and fleeing from the eagle’s presence because it is said that if the eagle flies above them it is a sign of great danger: it is actually considered a portent of death to be seen by the eagle while harvesting hellebore. It must be harvested quickly, because its vapour weighs down the head; and because of this those who must harvest it prepare themselves beforehand by eating garlic and drinking wine, so as then to harvest it without risk. The pith is extracted from this hellebore, as it is with the white hellebore. (f. 94v)
The long text appearing in the manuscript tallies with the Dioscorides’ chapter about Helleborus niger, although Cibo depicted Helleborus viridis, a similar species. The green hellebore grows in forests and meadows in Italy, France, northern Spain, Great Britain, and western and central Europe. Its rhizomes contain glycosides and saponins which invigorate the heart despite being obviously poisonous. In the Pyrenean area it was a remedy for toothache. The green hellebore has green flowers, whilst the black species has white or pink flowers.
Ramón Morales Valverde
Real Jardín Botánico de Madrid
(Excerpt from the commentary volume of Mattioli's Dioscorides illustrated by Cibo)