Elecampane is an expectorant that's mainly used to treat breathing issues like bronchial coughs, emphysema and inflammation of the mucous membrane causing excessive mucus in the nose or throat (catarrh). It also stimulates digestion. The rhizome is harvested in the fall to make a liquor essence of extract.
Photo by @krnel
The botanical or scientific name is Inula helenium, with other names such as Alant, Aster helenium, Aster officinalis, Aunée, Aunée Officinale, Elfdock, Elfwort, Enule Campagne, Grande Aunée, Helenio, Helenium grandiflorum, Horse-Elder, Horseheal, Indian Elecampane, Inula, Inule Aulnée, Inule Aunée, Inule Hélénie, Oeil-de-cheval, Scabwort, Velvet Dock, Wild Sunflower, Yellow Starwort.
The plants grows to about 35-39 inches, or 90-150 cm. The stem is rigid, and the leaves are large and toothed. The leaves are green but with whitish undersides. Flowers are up to 5cm or 2 inches wide, each containing 50-100 yellow ray flowers and 100-250 disc flowers. Roots are thick with a bitter taste but with sweet undertones.
- named after Helen of Troy
- mainly used for lung issues
- also treatment for stomach issues such as worms
- sweet flavor used since ancient times
As you might have guessed, the name helenium comes from Helen of Troy. In mythology, the elecampane is said to have sprung up where the tears of Helen fell. The ancient Celts also viewed the plant as sacred, calling it elfwort.
The root was used by ancients and mentioned by Pliny in his Natural History as both a medicine and a condiment. Later in England it was renowned as an aromatic tonic and stimulant of secretory glands.
Where is it found?
It's a widespread species of the sunflower family, Asteraceae.
Inula helenium is native to Europe and Asia, from Spain to the Xinjiang Province in western China. It's been introduced and naturalized in many parts of North America.
What's it used for?
The root used used to make the medicine. The main use is for lung disease like asthma, bronchitis and whooping cough. It can also prevent coughing, especially caused by tuberculosis, and is usd as an expectorant to loosen phlegm.
Additionally, it's used for improving stomach functions, treating nausea and diarrhea, and killing worms like hookworm, roundworm, threadworm and whipworm living in the intestines.
Other uses had been to promote sweating, and to provide flavor in foods and beverages. It's sweet smell has been used is cosmetics and soaps as well.
Are there any risks?
Those allergic to ragweed can have an allergic reaction to elecampane. It will also produce reactions for those who are sensitive to the Asteraceae/Compositae plant family, like chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, and many others.
Elecampane might interfere with blood sugar control, so it's use among diabetics should include monitoring blood sugar levels. It might also affect blood pressure levels. It can also cause sleepiness, so be careful if combining with other medication. If pregnant or breast feeding, it's recommended to avoid taking it to be on the safe side.
Previous posts on Getting to Know Herbs:
Lungwort | Cramp Bark | Motherwort | Common Plantain | Eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) | Black Cohosh | Common Bearberry | Mahonia Mountain Grape (Oregon Grape) | Blue Cohosh | Goldenseal
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