I’ve had to move a big clump of elecampane, so I’m taking the opportunity to make some tincture from the roots, though I would usually have waited until the autumn to harvest them.
Elecampane (Inula helenium) is a plant with bright yellow flowers and big leaves, which can grow more than six feet tall, but despite this showy top growth, it is the roots that are used medicinally. They have a pungent, spicy flavour which is not to everyone’s taste though.
It is a plant which supports the respiratory system and is used as a herbal decongestant. It is also a strong antiseptic and bactericide, and was traditionally used to expel internal parasites.
According to Gerard it took the name Helenium from Helena of Troy, who had her hands full of it when Paris stole her away into Phrygia. Another legend states that it sprang from her tears.
Not only was its root much employed as a medicine, but it was also candied and eaten as a sweetmeat. Dr. Fernie tells us, in Herbal Simples: “Some fifty years ago, the candy was sold commonly in London as flat, round cakes being composed largely of sugar and coloured with cochineal. A piece was eaten each night and morning for asthmatical complaints, whilst it was customary when travelling by a river, to suck a bit of the root against poisonous exalations and bad air.”
To make the tincture, the roots are washed and dried, and the outer pith is stripped away. They are then chopped and placed in a jam jar and covered with vodka (you could also use brandy). This is put in a dark place for a few weeks, shaken daily, before being strained off into dark dropper bottles.
You can also make an electuary from the roots, by covering the dried roots with honey, and leaving for three or four weeks, before warming slightly and straining off the honey into a clean jar. Take a spoonful a couple of times a day if you have a cough or congestion, or pop a spoonful of it into another herbal tea.
NB: Do not take if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or if you are allergic to ragweed or other plants in the Asteraceae family (eg. chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, feverfew, chamomile, Echinacea), if you are taking prescription medication for blood pressure. Treat with caution if you are diabetic. Do not take for two weeks before surgery or if you are taking any sedative medications.
© Anna Franklin, 2020