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Tuesday
Jan032012

Elecampane (Inula helenium)

The ground thawed enough last week that I was able to harvest my Elecampane root – phew! That’s definitely one herb I couldn’t do without for an entire year as I use it a lot in my practice.

Elecampane is a member of the asteraceae or aster family – the same family as dandelion. It has beautiful flowers that look like small scraggly sunflowers, but unlike dandelion which stays close to the ground, Elecampane can grow up to several feet in height. I love this plant (really, I love all plants). Looking at its cheerful flowers and being in its presence lifts my spirit. It’s like it radiates out a beautiful, sunny day. The stalk of Elecampane is very strong and persists into the winter. In the late fall and early winter, the dried seed heads provide food for the seed eating birds such as goldfinches, juncos and chickadees. It is such a delight to watch the birds and listen to their gentle call notes as they take turns jumping on and off the Elecampane.

The parts of Elecampane used medicinally are the herb and root. The herb is harvested early in its flowering period from early to mid July and consists of one medium sized leaf from higher up on the stem to every two unfertilized flowers. You can tell the flower has been fertilized when there is any browning of the florets; an unfertilized flower is bright yellow. The root is harvested in the fall after the aerial parts of the plant have died back.

The herb is excellent for chronic inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. It is used for liver and gallbladder congestion, poor appetite, indigestion and constipation. It is an immune stimulant and is used for colds, flu, measles, chickenpox and fever. It is used for upper respiratory tract conditions such as sinus infections and hayfever. It is also an amphoteric nervine, which means that it is either calming or slightly stimulating to the central nervous system depending on whether you are in a more hyper or fatigued state.

The root is a rejuvenating tonic for the lungs. It is used to treat respiratory tract infections such as bronchitis and whooping cough and chronic lung conditions such as asthma and emphysema. It is excellent for any acute or chronic conditions of the digestive system. It is an antimicrobial, aperient, anti-inflammatory, appetite stimulant, bitter, relaxant and a warming carminative. A warming carminative is a pungent, aromatic herb that stimulates the digestive secretions of the mouth, stomach and small intestines and reduces spasms, gas and bloating in the digestive tract. The root is excellent for hypoglycaemia and diabetes and provides support to the adrenals and pancreas. It also has immune stimulating properties and is used in formulation to boost the immune system and prevent infections.

The root is also an excellent vermifuge and is used to expel all manner of worms from the intestines. What follows is an old recipe for a vermifuge ‘wine’ using Elecampane root:

200g fresh chopped Elecampane root

250ml vodka

¼ cup organic, raw cane sugar

1 litre organic red wine

Macerate (soak) the Elecampane in the vodka in a mason jar for one week. Shake at least once a day and store in a dark place. Add the rest of the ingredients and macerate one month more in a dark place, shaking daily for two weeks then let sit for another two weeks. After this, strain out the herb and store the 'wine' in a dark bottle with a tight-fitting lid. To use, take 25ml before meals, 3 times a day for 3 consecutive days. Take a break for 10 days then repeat. Repeat this whole process a total of three times.

Elecampane is a very safe, tonic herb that can be used with children. It does have some mild emmenagogue properties though, so it shouldn’t be used in pregnancy.

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