Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Also known as: Horseheal, Scabwort, Elf Dock, Horse Elder, Velvet Dock, Aunee, Yellow Starwort, Wild Sunflower.
Parts used: root, flower
Meridians/Organs affected: lungs, spleen stomach
Properties: expectorant, anti-emetic (except in large amounts), stomachic, chi tonic, carminative, diuretic, antiseptic, astringent, mild stimulant, vermifuge, diaphoretic, aromatic, antibacterial, antifungal, sedative, alterative, emmenogogue, antispasmodic, antiscorbutic, vulnerary, antivenomous
Elecampane is a member of the Compositae family. It is a perennial plant covered with soft hairs, It has a thick, solid stem with a large ovate like leaf that can get up to 18 inches long and 4-8 inches wide. The leaves alternate on the plant and are serrated. The flowers are a lovely hue of yellow and are about 2-4 inches across and the root can get up to 3 feet long. Elecampane is a native of Asia and Europe but can be found all over the world in temperate climates. It can get up to 10 feet tall and seems to love clay soils.
Elecampane has a long history and has been used by many cultures around the globe. Pliny said that a person should chew the roots of it daily to "help digestion, expel melancholy and sorrow and cause mirth." Culpeper added that is has no equal when it comes to whooping cough in children. Galen used it for sciatica and Dioscorides used it as an antidote to snake bites. Gerard and Culpeper both recommended it for respiratory complaints which is what it is most used for by modern herbalists today. In the Middle Ages it was called 'horse helne' because it was used as a horse tonic and the name scabwort became attached to it as it was useful for treating skin conditions in sheep. It was listed in the US Pharmacopeia for many years and its use dates back 2000 plus years amongst the Asian cultures.
There are some interesting stories attached to elecampane. In Denmark and Ireland it is called elf dock. The story says that a young peasant woman fell in love with a prince she saw hunting one day. She knew because of her poor station in life that she would never catch his eye. During this time it was apparently customary to set out a bowl of milk on the stoop for the 'little people' who came to visit during the night. As she was setting out said bowl on her porch she sat down and lamented over her prince and eventually fell asleep. When the elves came to drink their milk they took pity on the young girl and cast a spell on her that clothed her in elecampane and chained its yellow flowers in a necklace about her neck. When the prince came to hunt in the woods the next day her dress transformed into a beautiful green velvet and the flowers into a gold necklace. The prince was so overwhelmed by her beauty that he whisked her off and married her blah blah blah.....you simply can't make this stuff up. (I always have to chuckle when I read about folklore attached to plants. Never underestimate the power of a weed...lol). Another such story says that elecampane actually came from the tears of Helen of Troy when she was stolen away by Paris. 'Eleno-de-la-Campagna' roughly translated means 'Helen of the Fields'.
Despite the many legends that accompany it, elecampane has been used for a host of maladies as well. The roots have been candied (it has a camphor like flavor so it is like eating vicks vaporub) and have been used as lozenges for coughs. It was a popular addition to sauces for fish and puddings as well as being used in the distillation and brewing industry particularly for absinthe and vermouth. Jethro Kloss wrote that elecampane combined with echinacea was an effective remedy for tuberculosis. In fact it has been used across the globe for chronic lung conditions, coughing, bronchitis and asthma. As it is a carminative it has been found to strengthen the digestion and soothe the lining of the digestive tract. This is due to the inulin content (a complex carbohydrate material that swells and forms a mucilagenous coating when mixed with digestive fluids just like burdock root and marshmallow root). For this reason it is also very useful for kidney and bladder stones, urinary infections and menstrual issues. Elecampane containe an oil that has sesquiterpene lactones. Recent studies done on these lactones found that they have powerful antifungal and antibacterial capabilities. These lactones are what expel worms from the body and one of the reasons it has long been used and found effective for herpes, scabies and other skin conditions. It also makes it useful for things like dysentery, diarrhea and yeast infections, particularly in the bowel. Other research has indicated it may also have a sedative effect.
It is clear that this herb has much to offer, especially when dealing with respiratory complaints. All the research I have read has it listed as very effective for that area in particular. It is an herb that isn't talked about much but like many other herbs it has much to give if used correctly. Do not use if you are pregnant as it can stimulate menstruation.
As is customary with my posts I am leaving some links below for your perusal. Use them as you see fit. Stay healthy!