Leaf of the Day: Lenten Rose

Here I am at home in Lincolnshire. Spring is just getting underway and the low sun is slanting across the garden through the bare trees. Delightful little snowdrops and aconites carpet the grass under the branches of the weeping ash and this beautiful purple Lenten Rose (helleboris orientalis) is in bloom under the old apple tree. I only had time for a quick sketch today which does not do it justice at all.

These are mysterious plants with dark purple flowers, called the Lenten Rose as they often bloom during the 40 days before Easter, later than their showier relative the Christmas Rose. The plant is extremely toxic, the word ‘hellebore derived from the Greek “elein” meaning to injure and “bora” meaning food. It has a deliciously bad history in medicine and since Greek times it has been employed as a poison, purgative and magic potion… even as a spell for becoming invisible. Hellebore is one of the classic poisons along with aconite, hemlock and nightshade. John Calvin, regarded it as “a good purgation for phrenticke heads.”

Mysterious, deadly and beautiful… to be handled with some caution I think.


Lenten Rose