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Sunday, October 16, 2011


Elecampane has been used at least since the time of the ancient Greeks in medicinal preparations. It is supposed to have got the name Helenium (of Helen) from the fabled beauty, Helen of Troy the wife of the Greek king Menelaus. One legend says that she was carrying a bunch of elecampane flowers when Paris captured her and took her to Troy. Another says that the flowers sprang from her tears. Yet another legend suggests that she was the first to use elecampane for the bites of “venomous serpents.”  Alternatively the plant grew prolifically on the island of Saint Helena and so got its name from the island.
  Elecampane is native to south-eastern Europe and western Asia and has large leaves which have velvety undersides and can grow to lengths of one and a half feet. The leaves resemble those of mullein, while the flowers look a little like sunflowers, hence one of its names, the wild sunflower. It is also known as horse-heal because it has been used as a cure for some diseases suffered by horses and scabwort, as it has been effective in treating scabies in sheep; because of its velvety leaves it has also been called velvet dock, although the leaves as they grow on the plant do not really look like dock leaves. It has been naturalized in many countries including Britain where it is regarded as an indigenous species as it has been growing there in its wild state for so long. It was also grown in gardens for medicinal purposes in the Middle Ages.
  Ancient writers such as the Roman Pliny called it Enula, and he writes that Julia Augustus ate the roots of elecampane daily “to help digestion and cause mirth.” He went on to write that the root if chewed while fasting would “fasten teeth.” Galen, another ancient physician considered it good for sciatica.
  John Gerard, writing in his 16th century Herball had this to say about Elecampane, and it should be remembered that most of his information came from the ancient Classical writers.
“It is good for shortness of breath, and an old cough, and for such as cannot breath unlesse they hold their necks upright. It is of great vertue both given in a looch, which is a medicine to be licked on, and likewise preserved, as also otherwise given to purge and void out thick, tough, and clammie humors, which stick in the chest and lungs. The root taken with honie or sugar made into an electurary, clenseth the brest, ripeneth tough flegme, and maketh it easie to be spet forth, and prevaileth mightily against the cough and shortness of breath, comforteth the stomacke also, and helpeth digestion.”
  Nicholas Culpeper writing in the 17th century had this to say of it: -
  “One of the most beneficial roots nature affords for the help of the consumptive. It has a fragrant, very agreeable smell; and a spicy, sharp, and somewhat bitterish taste. It is good for all diseases of the breast, and has great virtues in malignant fevers; in strengthening the stomach, and assisting digestion, not like a bitter, but as a warm, invigorating, animating medicine; and it has not its equal in the cure of the hooping-cough in children, when all other medicines fail. The fresh roots of Elecampane preserved with sugar, or made into a syrup or conserve, are very effectual to warm a cold windy stomach, or the pricking therein, and stitches in the sides caused by the spleen; and to help the cough, shortness of breath, and wheezing in the lungs. The dried root made into powder, and mixed with sugar, and taken, serves to the same purpose; and is also profitable for those who have their urine stopped, or the stopping of women's courses, the pains of the mother, and of the stone in the reins, kidneys, or bladder; it resists poison, and stays the spreading of the venom of serpents, as also putrid and pestilential fevers, and the plague itself.” He also called it “Elfwort” or the elf plant.
  Mainly elecampane has been used for coughs and respiratory problems, although the Welsh Physicians of Myddfai recommended it for burns mixed with egg white, the roots of the white Canna lily, and garlic. In Welsh elecampane is called “Marchlan y Llwyglas.” It is still used in herbal cough linctuses often mixed with thyme,liquorice root, mullein and white horehound.
  It has also been used in potions to protect against witches and other evils, one of which calls for nine herbs, namely: - rue, verbena, mugwort, yarrow, wood betony, the lesser celandine, white clover, nettle and elecampane. A European recipe for a love powder consisted of this herb combined with mistletoe, and verbena.
  If using the root of elecampane for its inulin content it is best to harvest it in autumn and take a root from a two or three year old plant. These are said to have the highest yield of inulin which soothes the digestive tract and is useful in treating coughs in the elderly and children and also good for nervous coughs as it is a relaxant. The volatile oil from elecampane contains camphor the sterols sitosterol and stigmasterol, alantol, helenin, and alantoic acid among other constituents. The oil has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
  Very few studies have been done on elecampane, but as it is a member of the Asteraceae (Compositae) or daisy family, if you are allergic to these plants, don’t use medications containing elecampane.

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