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16 years ago

What is this? I can handle foxglove, aconitum, euphorbia without any contact reaction, but I used my thumbs to open hellebore seed pods yesterday and they are still burning at the tips today...especially under my nails. Does anyone else get skin irritation from handling these? I knew they were toxic to ingest in large amount, but didn't think about my hands. ????

Comments (21)

  • DCTango

    Please see the website:

    As it says there, the fluids from all parts of the hellebore are extremely irritating to the skin.
    Handle with care! :)

  • SusanneC

    In addition to gloves (I use surgical gloves) I'd suggest to wear a face mask covering mouth and nose. After my first big Helleborus seed harvest I had burning eyes, a severe irritation of the sensitive inside skins of the nose and burning finger tips as well.
    Apart from this I had a headache and a feeling of dizzyness which took hours of fresh air to disappear.

  • morz8

    I buy big boxes of latex gloves at Costco for gardening, painting etc but just didn't think to put a pair on. I felt fine after handling the seeds, just had burning finger tips for several days....after about a week the skin became hard and peeled....very attractive! Live and learn.

  • skatayama

    I've just started getting interested in Hellebores. Glad you brought this up. Still interested though and can't wait to get started with a few...


  • buxusareyou


    Collecting seeds: What species cause the burning?

    Does it make a difference whether you are collecting seed pods or squeezing the seeds out of the pods?

    If you leave the pods in a bag for a day or two, and then clean the seed, do you still get the burning?

  • bruceNH

    I have no reaction to handling hellebore. I do not squeeze the seed pods though. I have noticed a stain on my hands from handling hellebore stems. I do wash my hands throughly after handling hellebore stems. My daughter who at times helps me has a reaction to the stems. She breaks out with a mild rash.

    I do beleive and have read that hellebore is only dangerous digested. I do wear the throw away kind of gloves often in the garden just to keep the dirt from under my nails but I think wearing gloves would be a good idea when handling hellebore stems.

    In collecting seed, I think it is best to allow the seed to fully ripen in the seed pod. The pod will open when ready and release the seed.

    Kindly as always,

  • buxusareyou

    Bruce - But wouldn't you be you be walking a fine line between being fully ripened and seed dispersal?

  • bruceNH

    Like you, I collect the flower stems just before they open and place them in a paper bag. The bag is left inside were it is dry. I wait a week or longer and then clean the seed.

  • morz8

    I was afraid I would find the seeds scattered and may have gotten impatient; I was using my thumbs to split open the pods...and actually was finding ripe seed. The tender, burned thumbs lasted about 5 days, no permanent damage, just a good lesson in my seed collecting technique.

    The plant was h. foetidus Sienna, and I can handle the stems, leaves, fresh seed without reaction, but apparently not the sap from close-to-ripe pods. (and I did later cut squares of nylon and tie those over the most swollen of the seed pods, and found fresh seed in their little 'bags' when the pods opened naturally and without my interference...I'll try the paper bag method this year, Heronswood Purple and Heronswood Yellow are blooming prettily now and it might be interesting to see what kinds of plants their seed produces.

  • buxusareyou

    Is it just H. foetidus that causes the burning or problems with others?

  • goswimmin

    When I have a skin reaction to the hellebores it is usually this time of year when I am cutting back the leaves. If any of the sharp edges of the leaves scrape against my skin I always get a rash in that spot. I have never had a problem with the seeds though.

  • Greenmanplants


    I've had exactly the same last July on splitting about 300 H. sternii pods, many of them before they were ripe in order to package up seed for the HELLEX seed exchange last year. I don't normally harvest until the pods split under very gentle pressure between finger and thumb, but this time I was being impatient to get these seeds in with others I was sending off. Any one who got H. sternii 'Beatrice le Blanc' in this years HELLEX exchange, I had days of numb, then itchy, then peeling skin off the fingers. It was very similar(though more extremedue to quantity) to the effect when cooking chillies, especially habaneros.

    So be patient and wait until the pods split under gentle pressure, rather than using your nails to force them open and shedding juice.

    I've never had this off any other species, but then I've probably never tried to harvest so early.

    Mary, your rash may be phyto photo sensitivity, many plants especially rue can cause this in conjunction with sunlight, my daughter had it quite badly when she was young.

    Any one know what the chemical basis of hellebore sap is.

    Cheers Greenmanplants.

  • lynn453_live_com

    I can see the seed pods on my spent Hellebore Flowers... Now do i just cut the whole flower stalk and wait for them to ripen?? Im so new at this but i love my hellebore and have trouble finding them (other then online, and had 6 or 7 die on me)

  • morz8

    Carolyn, no, let the seed pod ripen on the plant, don't cut it off. It will start to look a little dry, and begin to split along the 'seam'. If you are concerned about losing track of the ripening and having the seeds spill onto the ground, take a little square of nylon stocking and a twist tie and bag the flower, catch the seeds.

    Best sown not too many weeks after ripening, seeds sown summer or late summer, exposed to warm moist, cold moist conditions outdoors will begin to germinate next Spring....

    Here is a link that might be useful:

  • randlmaddocks_tiscali_co_uk

    my reaction progressed from burning fingertips on index fingers to blisters full of yucky pus which leaked out then raw finger tips with no skin on! I am also feeking quite washed out. I am now 6 days on from collecting hellebore seeds and will definitly leave them to scatter their seed into the ends of tights in future!

  • linda4882

    I was pulling weeds from my bed of helliores and had a severe skin reaction on my arms and hands. I immediately scrubbed and applied cortisone , also took antihistamine

    Next time gloves and long sleeves

  • ophoenix

    Another good site for the names of the chemicals that can cause problems from handling Hellebores is:

    But gloves should be your most important tool in the garden! Not only to protect your hands but to protect your plants from cross contamination. Professional gardeners always wear gloves - I am still trying to remember to put mine on every time. Getting better at it - even for those few weeds next to the stairs that are easy to reach. lol

  • Laurie Farnsworth

    This may sound daft, but I think I stumbled onto a salve for minor Hellebore burns.

    While harvesting H. foetidus seeds, I discovered that there was a small hole in one of my gloves. As expected, even after repeated washings, the affected thumb continued to burn. You know how dairy products ease the burning sensation from from foods heavily seasoned with chili powder? I spread a little sour cream on my thumb and hey presto, the burning stopped. Not only that, but the affected skin did not turn black as it has done in the past.

    Perhaps this was a minor exposure never destined to become as serious as past experiences, but it worked for me.

  • ophoenix

    Great Hint! I have super sensitive skin - old red head that I am - and will certainly try this the next time I am stung by a plant.

  • geoforce

    Never had any problems with Hellebores ar irritants, but then I don't react to poison ivy or many other allergens either. I have been trying to emove spent flowers before seeds mature but still find them an almost invasive pest in some of my beds, but luckily the seedlings are easy to pull at the single 3-lobe leaf stage. Despite this I love them for the early season bloom and lovely winter foliage.

  • Jill Wood

    Hi, I've been burnt on two of my fingers and thumb this week, harvesting Helleborus argutifolius seeds. It got through my gloves and I have big blisters. When it happened, I felt intense burning, and took my glove off to discover it had got through. I was wearing thick gardening gloves with a rubberised coating, but I still got burnt. I washed hands straight away. 48 hours later I still have big blisters. My husband has been extremely worried, but I think it's ok. I tried to get to see the doctor, but there were no appointments available. I'm treating it like a burn, and just hope it gets better. Next time I will wear surgical gloves under my gardening gloves for sure.

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