"Pay attention to the world." -- Susan Sontag
Early Spring Hellebores (2 of 2)

Early Spring Hellebores (2 of 2)

From “Helleborus” in Flowers and Their Histories by Alice M. Coats:

“Few plants are of greater antiquity, or more surrounded by legend and superstition than the hellebore. According to Greek tradition, the shepherd Melampus first became aware of its properties through observing its effect on his goats; and he used it successfully to cure the daughters of Proetus, King of Argus, of mental derangement — in some versions of the story, by dosing them with the milk of the goats that had eaten it, or in others, by the use of the herb itself, followed by baths in a cold fountain; so that for centuries afterward, the plant was famous as a cure for insanity….

“One of the species grew plentifully about Anticyra in the Gulf of Corinth, so eccentrics were playfully advised to ‘take a trip to Anticyra,’ and Horace calls a hopeless mental case: ‘One not three Anticyras could cure.’ So powerful a herb had, of course, to be treated with great respect, and
Greek rhizotomoi or root-gatherers thought it necessary to draw a circle round it with a sword and recite prayers to Apollo and Aesculapius, before digging it up; keeping at the same time a wary look-out for eagles, for if one of these birds chanced to hover near, the gatherer would die within the year. It was also considered advisable to eat garlic before-hand, in order to ward off the poisonous efluvia of the plant. Later, the Gauls are said to have rubbed their arrow-points with hellebore before hunting, in order to make the meat killed, more tender.

“It was possibly introduced into this country by the Romans, who would hardly have allowed themselves to be deprived of so useful a plant; and it was much valued in mediaeval times for keeping away witches and evil spirits, and breaking spells and enchantments. If cattle fell sick, either through poison or evil spells, the practice was to bore a hole through the animal’s ear, and insert a piece of hellebore root. This was removed twenty-four hours later, by which time the trouble was supposed to be cured. The belief in the plant’s efficacy as a cure for mania continued right through the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries….”


This is the second of two posts featuring hellebores from Oakland Cemetery’s gardens.

The first post — where I describe some of the sorcery I used when taking the photos — is Early Spring Hellebores (1 of 2).

About half of the photos in this post were taken with backlighting or side-lighting; those are the ones that look like they might have their own electric light source. Others were from shadier spots (like those in the first post) where I played around with different combinations of dappled sunlight just to see what would happen.

Thanks for taking a look!

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