This beautiful, early sign of spring is native to much of Europe where there is a long history of cultivation. While they look a bit like roses, they are in the same family as the buttercup. The genus Helleborus comes from the Greek word 'elein' meaning to injure and 'bora' meaning food-- alluding to it's poisonous nature.
For centuries it was used for various medicinal purposes. Used in the treatment of paralysis, gout, and insanity, it's toxic nature often caused tinnitus, vertigo, tongue swelling, vomiting, and cardiac arrest--so the cure was often more lethal than the disease. Hippocrates is said to have used it as a purgative (although many feel he actually used the white hellebores which isn't a true hellebores); it appears in Greek and Roman literature: as a cure for King Midas' daughters who were bewitched by Dionysus and found running naked through the streets of Pylo, but also as a poison--at the Siege of Kirrha in 585BC, the Greeks poisoned the city's water system with crushed dried hellebores leaves, causing such severe diarrhea-- weakening the defending troops, that the Greek soldiers easily took the city.
An overdose is thought to have caused the death of Alexander the Great.
The one sweet tale associated with this little gem of a plant is that of a little girl, so poor she had no gift for the Christ child. As she shed tears...every one of those tears became a little Christmas rose, or Hellebores.
I started with about five plants, bordering a garden. My plants 'shed tears' and baby plants appear by the hundreds every spring and easily transplant. They are probably my one gardening success story, but only because they are so easily grown and cultivated.
They are among my favorite flowers---but, what's not to love? 'Roses' in the garden in January!!!