|Like a sunflower, elecampane (Inula helenium) brings joy and positive vibes with its striking appearance. Vibrant and bright yellow flowers with large, terminal heads that go three to four inches in diameter sit elegantly on long stalks. The resemblance to sunflowers isn’t a matter of coincidence; elecampane belongs to the sunflower family Asteraceae. This family of flowering plants is large and includes over 32,000 currently accepted species in over 1,900 genera and 13 subfamilies.|
|The elegance of elecampane’s appearance is further emphasized with the erect stem that can grow up to four or five feet in height. Stout and deeply furrowed stem branches near the top. In fact, the whole herb is downy and produces enormous, ovate, pointed leaves. Each leaf can grow between one and 1.5 inches in length and measures about four inches across the middle. Although velvety in the middle, elecampane’s leaves are decorated with toothed margins.
Also known by other names such as horse-heal and elfdock, elecampane is in its full blooming glory during summer months from June to August. Native to Europe and Asia, elecampane is easy to spot, and it's also found in some parts of Northern America. The yellow-flowered herb tolerates moist and shady positions in ordinary garden soil very well, but it thrives in good, loamy soil with damp, but the well-drained ground.
|For centuries people from different cultures have cultivated and used elecampane for medicinal purposes. Some of the first historical traces of elecampane are tied to the Helen of Troy, after whom the herb was named helenium. According to the legend, elecampane grew where Helen’s tears had landed. The significance of elecampane was immense to Celts for whom the herb was sacred and held primarily for its associations with fairy folk and elves. On the other hand, the ancient Romans used elecampane as a remedy for different ailments, especially those affecting uterus, skin, brain, kidneys, and stomach. In the 17th century, elecampane was widely used in the form of a lozenge.|
This relatively tall herb holds significant medicinal potential, which requires thorough research and studies that would examine its mechanisms of action. Some of its main health benefits could include antispasmodic properties i.e., the ability to alleviate muscle spasms and tension.* Elecampane could also act as a hepatic tonic that may soothe and support liver health.* Due to the high fiber content, elecampane could ease digestive issues such as nausea, flatulence, and diarrhea caused by worms in the gut.*
Pain caused by lung problems such as whooping cough, bronchitis, and asthma may also alleviate with elecampane due to its potential to loosen phlegm.* The astringent and antibacterial properties of elecampane could make it effective in the fight against bacterial infection.* The use of elecampane could promote sweating and help expel viruses or bacteria.*
Besides medicinal uses, elecampane also has a culinary function, and it is added to meals to enhance their flavor. Flowers, although pretty and vibrant, are generally not used, but root primarily and sometimes the rhizomes from two- to three-year-old plants. Parts of these elegant plants are formed into tinctures, tea, syrup, medicinal honey, and more.