Thursday, August 25, 2011

Finding New Ways With Elecampane

Elecampane is said to be the herb of the fairies and I have no doubt why. Playful and whimsical, it will take up a corner of your garden with it's majestic leaves and bright yellow bursts of flowers. 

I've been growing elecampane in my garden for a few years now. In the fall I harvest the roots to infuse in honey and make into tinctures and elixirs. 

Most people do not adore the taste of the roots. Pungent and bitter, it's strong enough to wipe out intestinal pests. 

I love how it can bring up congested stuck mucus in the chest, wonderful for that winter time crud. Infuse it in honey and the pungent bitter taste is mellowed. 

Elecampane root infused in honey

I also add it in small amounts to digestive blends. It's warmth and pungency can spicen up a digestive bitters blend. 

This year I was especially taken with the flowers. By the end of the season I will have had over fifty blooms on my towering plant. Every time I visit the elecampane I am struck by how voraciously the bees attack the blooms. Literally crawling on top of each other to find the sweetness below. 

I've always wondered about using elecampane flowers as medicine. Thomas Avery Garran tells me that the Chinese use the flowers of different Inula species. And sometimes species are interchangeable and sometimes they aren't. 

As my own mind was full of elecampane flower musings I started to hear other herbalists echo this query. Can we use the flowers? Are they similar to the roots? 

In herbalism some of the best ideas come from following our intuition so today I headed down to the garden with my harvest basket in hand to pick the brightest flowers I could find. 

I had to gently shoo away the bees since they busily buzzed over every bloom. 

Back home I stuffed the flowers into a small jar and covered with this everclear. 

In a few weeks I'll be able to report my initial thoughts on these elecampane flowers. 

Common name: Elecampane
Botanical name: Inula helenium
Family: Asteraceae
Parts used: Root in western herbalism, TCM uses the flower of various species
Plant Energetics: Stimulating, warming, aromatic
Tastes: Bitter, pungent with a little sweetness
Plant Actions: Stimulating diaphoretic, stimulating expectorant, carminative, vermicide
Use for: Colds and flus, fever with chills, bronchitis, intestinal parasites, stagnant or damp digestion, asthma, imbalanced intestinal flora

You can buy your own elecampane plant at Crimson Sage Nursery. They ship all over the US. 

You can buy dried elecampane root at your local apothecary or Mountain Rose Herbs

Try the dried root infused in port! 

Have you used elecampane flowers? Done any experimenting yourself lately? Please share!