Elecampane





Elecampane, writes William Coles, is one of the plants whereof

England may boast as much as any, for there grows none better in

the world than in England, let apothecaries and druggists say what

they will. It is a tall, stout, downy plant, from three to five feet

high, of the Composite order, with broad leaves, and bright,

yellow flowers. Campania is the original source of the plant

(Enula campana), which is called also Elf-wort, and Elf-dock.

Its botanical title is Helenium inula, to commemorate Helen of

Troy, from whose tears the herb was thought to have sprung, or

whose hands were full of the leaves when Paris carried her off

from Menelaus. This title has become corrupted in some districts

to Horse-heal, or Horse-hele, or Horse-heel, through a double,

blunder, the word inula being misunderstood for hinnula, a

colt; and the term Hellenium being thought to have something

to do with healing, or [173] heels; and solely on this account the

Elecampane has been employed by farriers to cure horses of scabs

and sore heels. Though found wild only seldom, and as a local

production in our copses and meadows, it is cultivated in our

gardens as a medicinal and culinary herb. The name inula is

only a corruption of the Greek elenium; and the herb is of

ancient repute, having been described by Dioscorides. An old

Latin distich thus celebrates its virtues: Enula campana reddit

proecordia sana--Elecampane will the spirits sustain. Julia

Augusta, said Pliny, let no day pass without eating some of the

roots of Enula condired, to help digestion, and cause mirth.



The inula was noticed by Horace, Satire viii., 51:--



Erucos virides inulas ego primus amaras

Monstravi incoquere.



Also the Enula campana has been identified with the herb Moly

(of Homer), apo tou moleuein, from its mitigating pain.



Prior to the Norman Conquest, and during the Middle Ages, the

root of Elecampane was much employed in Great Britain as a

medicine; and likewise it was candied and eaten as a sweetmeat.

Some fifty years ago the candy was sold commonly in London, as

flat, round cakes, being composed largely of sugar, and coloured

with cochineal. A piece was eaten each night and morning for

asthmatical complaints, whilst it was customary when travelling

by a river to suck a bit of the root against poisonous exhalations

and bad air. The candy may be still had from our confectioners,

but now containing no more of the plant Elecampane than there is

of barley in barley sugar.



Gerard says: The flowers of this herb are in all [174] their

bravery during June and July; the roots should be gathered in the

autumn. The plant is good for an old cough, and for such as cannot

breathe freely unless they hold their necks upright; also it is of

great value when given in a loch, which is a medicine to be licked

on. It voids out thick clammy humors, which stick in the chest and

lungs. Galen says further: It is good for passions of the

huckle-bones, called sciatica. The root is thick and substantial,

having, when sliced, a fragrant aromatic odour.



Chemically, it contains a crystalline principle, resembling

camphor, and called helenin; also a starch, named inulin,

which is peculiar as not being soluble in water, alcohol, or ether;

and conjointly a volatile oil, a resin, albumen, and acetic acid.

Inulin is allied to starch, and its crystallized camphor is separable

into true helenin, and alantin camphor. The former is a powerful

antiseptic to arrest putrefaction. In Spain it is much used as a

surgical dressing, and is said to be more destructive than any other

agent to the bacillus of cholera. Helenin is very useful in

ulceration within the nose (ozoena), and in chronic bronchitis to

lessen the expectoration. The dose is from a third of a grain to two

grains.



Furthermore, Elecampane counteracts the acidity of gouty

indigestion, and regulates the monthly illnesses of women. The

French use it in the distillation of absinthe, and term it l'aulnee,

d'un lieu plante d'aulnes ou elle se plait. To make a decoction,

half-an-ounce of the root should be gently boiled for ten minutes

in a pint of water, and then allowed to cool. From one to two

ounces of this may be taken three times in the day. Of the

powdered root, from half to one teaspoonful may be given for a

dose.



[175] A medicinal tincture (H.) is prepared from the root, of

which thirty or forty drops may be taken for a dose, with two

tablespoonfuls of cold water; but too large a dose will induce

sickness. Elecampane is specifically curative of a sharp pain

affecting the right elbow joint, and recurring daily; also of a

congestive headache coming on through costiveness of the lowest

bowel. Moreover, at the present time, when there is so much talk

about the inoculative treatment of pulmonary consumption by the

cultivated virus of its special microbe, it is highly interesting to

know that the helenin of Elecampane is said to be peculiarly

destructive to the bacillus of tubercular disease.



In classic times the poet Horace told how Fundanius first taught

the making of a delicate sauce, by boiling in it the bitter Inula

(Elecampane); and how the Roman stomach, when surfeited with

an excess of rich viands, pined for turnips, and the appetising

Enulas acidas from frugal Campania:--



Quum rapula plenus

Atque acidas mavult inulas.





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