Elecampane (Inula helenium)

2 Oct 2019 | 0 comments

Family: Asteraceae/Compositae

Also known as: Wild sunflower, Velvet dock, Scabwort, Horseheal, Allicampane, Elf dock, Elf wort, Else dock, Enula campana, Horse elder, Alant, alant camphor, Yellow starwort, Marchalan.

Parts Used: Root and rhizome (flowers in Chinese medicine).

Introduction: Elecampane is a large, statuesque perennial, up to 2 metres tall, with attractive yellow, daisy flowers and downy leaves that can grow a foot long. It is native to Europe and Northern Asia. The root is thick and mucilaginous, with a delicious pungent and aromatic taste and a camphoraceous smell. 

Elecampane is suitable for all ages and is especially useful for those feeling run down and debilitated. It cleanses toxins from the body, stimulates the immune and digestive systems and helps combat bacterial and fungal infections. The root is used as a warming expectorant, excellent for relieving catarrh, colds, asthma, bronchitis and other chest infections and taken hot it helps to bring down fevers and increases the circulation. It has long been popular as a remedy for TB. It warms and invigorates the digestion and its bitters stimulate the flow of bile from the liver. 

History/Folklore/Traditional Uses: Elecampane’s Latin name apparently comes from Helen of Troy as the plant was said to spring from her tears as they fell to the ground when she was taken away by Paris. Others say that Helen of Troy carried a bouquet of elecampane with her while being abducted from Sparta. The ancient Greeks and Romans regarded elecampane as something of a cure-all for ailments including dropsy, menstrual disorders, digestive upsets and what Galen described as “passions of the hucklebone” which is probably sciatica.  It was also used to remedy coughs, bronchitis, asthma and catarrhal congestion. Culpeper said it is “very effectual to warm a cold, windy stomach” while John Gerard recommended elecampane for “the shortness of breath.” 

The root was also believed to have healing powers beyond the body. It was burned on charcoal to sharpen psychic powers and to create an atmosphere of protection. To the Anglo-Saxons elecampane was the remedy for “elf-shot” and averting the evil eye, which explains some of the plant’s common names such as “elf-wort” and “elf-dock.” It was considered that the work of elves was responsible for the onset of a number of illnesses. When made into incense elecampane has been used to purify candidates for initiation and is considered to be helpful in times of stress, grief, melancholy or depression. Apparently the Native Americans used elecampane to help them feel more connected to the earth.

Contra-Indications: Avoid during pregnancy and breast feeding. Contra-indicated in diabetes and heart problems. Large doses can cause diarrhoea and vomiting. Possible reactions in people allergic to Asteraceae family pollen (chrysanthemum, chamomile, ragweed, daisy). Caution in inflammation. 

Herb/Drug Interactions: No drug herb interactions reported but diabetics should monitor their blood glucose as inulin may inhibit glucose absorption. 

Growing: Propagate by sowing seeds, barely covering them. Alternatively divide roots in spring or autumn. Elecampane will grow happily in moist soil and sun or semi-shade. It grows 2-5′ (60 – 150cm) high and flowers in July and August. It makes a good decorative plant for the herb garden or the back of a flower border. It self-seeds easily if flower heads are left. It is best harvested in the autumn from plants that are two years old, and can be dried for later use.

Anne runs a seasonal course in experiential herbalism at Trill Farm, using the herb gardens and hedgerows to teach the practical side of using herbs.