Common Names – Elecampane, Wild Sunflower, Horseheal, Yellow Starwort, (more below)
Botanical Name – Inula helenium
Family – Asteraceae
Elecampane (Inula helenium) is a perennial herb in the aster family with a long history of medicinal uses. In appearance, it is reminiscent of a sunflower plant, with tall stalks, pale green foliage, and bright yellow flowers with large seed heads in the center. The flowers of elecampane are much smaller than sunflowers, but it has enormous leaves that can grow to 2 feet in length.
Elecampane is easy to grow but is not particularly showy or attractive. It is grown primarily for its use in herbal medicine. All parts of the plant have medicinal applications, but the octopus-like roots provide the main source of useful material. Dig the roots in the fall, and remember, only take a third of the roots from each plant.
The many uses of elecampane are suggested in its various common names, including elf dock, scabwort, wild sunflower, horseheal, horse elder. As far back as Roman times, this herb was commonly used to treat indigestion. Helen of Troy is said to have had a handful of the plant when Paris stole her away. And several of the nicknames for elecampane came from early beliefs that it cured many ailments on animals.
“Let no day pass without eating some of the roots to help digestion, and to expel melancholy”“.Pliny
Elecampane is known primarily as a respiratory tonic, and is used to ease breathing in cases of asthma and bronchitis. The root is the part used medicinally, and it’s chemical constituents helenalin, helenin, and inulin have been shown to have expectorant and antiseptic properties that support its traditional uses. Inula also contains a volatile compound, alantolactone, in the oil that has antibacterial and antifungal properties. Elecampane is also a bitter tonic that tones the digestive system.
Most commonly, elecampane is used to move phlegm that causes respiratory issues and eliminate intestinal bacteria to improve stomach issues.
The root and sometimes the rhizomes from two- to three-year-old elecampane plants are used in herbal medicine formed into teas, tinctures, medicinal honey, syrup, capsules, extracts, or sweet confections. Elecampane is also used to provide flavor in foods and beverages, and to lend fragrance in beauty products.
Slice the roots in bite-sized pieces, not too small. If using fresh roots, fill half a glass jar. But, if using dried roots, fill to 1/4 jar. Fill the entire jar with honey. Turn over the jar a few times a day for 2-4 weeks if using fresh roots. Dried roots need to infuse for 4-6 weeks.
When you have a cough, simply eat the honey. Honey also feels good on the throat as well. Also, you can eat the pieces of root, or they can be removed. If you don’t have fresh elecampane root, you can use half as much dried elecampane root to make the honey. Always, label your jars with name, date, alcohol, and herb used! Store in the fridge.
Take 1 tablespoon for adults, and less for children, as needed, up to 3 times a day. Never give honey to a child under a year (some say two years old).
Chop roots in small pieces, and place in a glass jar. If using fresh root, fill jar 1/2 full, and 1/4 full for dried roots. Fill the jar to 1 inch with choice of alcohol. I use 80 Proof Vodka. You can also use apple cider vinegar. Allow to infuse in a dark place for 6 weeks, shaking several times a week. You may have to add more alcohol.
At the end of infusion time, remove herbs. Store in a dark glass dropper bottle if possible. Always, label your jars with name, date, alcohol, and herb used!
The dosage will be different for each person. So start with a drop (like I do) in a little water. Increase as needed. Can be taken up to 3 times daily as needed.
Boil a quart of water in a saucepan. When it comes to a boil, add 2 tablespoons of dried elecampane root. Turn down to a simmer and do so for 20 minutes. Add honey to taste. Honey heals and soothes as well. Add a lemon slice if desired. Strain and drink your natural cough remedy.
Remember, I am not a doctor, so please consult your doctor when taking herbal products, especially if you are taking a prescribed medicine.