Elecampane was widely used by our ancient grandmothers to alleviate suppressed menses and female disorders, and has a long history of use as a strengthening tonic. The Greeks and Romans regarded elecampane as one of their most important herbs.
Elecampane roots have been used for centuries to treat chronic respiratory illness, most notably bronchitis and asthma. They help promote expectoration, are warming, and are an especially soothing tonic for mucous membranes. Elecampane possesses an active bitter principle, called helenin, which kills ordinary bacterial organisms and is especially destructive to tubercle bacillus (TB).
Fall-dug elecampane roots may be 44 percent (by weight) inulin. Inulin is useful to help stabilize blood sugar levels and as a digestive and liver tonic. Another one of elecampane’s chemical constituents, alantolactone, expels intestinal parasites, including pinworms and giardia.
First Nations use elecampane to remedy a variety of ills. Cherokees use the root as a remedy for all lung ailments and the women use it to strengthen their wombs during pregnancy. The Delaware nations use elecampane root as a general strengthening tonic and specifically to relieve digestive woes, combining the roots with poplar bark to treat colds. Malecite use elecampane to ease head and heartache and also to relieve colds.
In Southern Italia we have a number of names for this plant, depending on locale: Enula ceppitoni, ceppica, prutara and pruteca. Elecampane roots are traditionally dried in the open air and used to prepare infusions for bronchitis, deeply entrenched coughs, bronchial asthma and generally for any type of respiratory distress. Elecampane’s bitter and tonic properties also explain its choleretic and diuretic properties. Finally, the decoction and tincture are used against itching exanthema.
Flower Essence I use elecampane flower essence to help get in touch with the realm of the faeries.
Magical Lore Old wives say that elfin spirits love to hang out under the big shady leaves of elecampane. A common name for this old fashioned plant is elf-dock.
Culture Elecampane grows well in moist, shady locations. I like to plant elecampane seeds directly in the garden, but also germinate some in the greenhouse in early spring for later transplanting. Elecampane grows quite large and looks almost tropical. The plants in my garden grow six to eight feet tall. Around August, they begin to produce big, beautiful, deep-yellow flowers. Elecampane makes a lovely hedge or background plant, and likes to spread itself around. I dig up the large fibrous roots of elecampane in the fall of their second or third year, and tincture them while fresh, or cut into slices and dry. Some years I slice fresh elecampane roots, cook them in honey and then dry them on a rack. We chew and suck all winter on these sweet yet bitter slices, soothing scratchy throats and easing coughs. I also like to make a syrup.
Syrup of Elecampane Roots 1 quart elecampane root infusion, 20 drops elecampane tincture, 1 cup honey. Gently decoct the infusion until it is reduced by half. Add honey and tincture. Stir until well dissolved. Pour into a sterilized jar. Use a teaspoon up to three times daily, or as needed.
“A blue dye has been extracted from the root, bruised and macerated and mingled with ashes and whortleberries.” Maude Grieve