Elecampane is one of my favorite bitter roots and a delightful remedy to lung congestion and coughs that like to hang around this time of year.

Elecampane's latin name is Inula helenium, ancient myths hold the root of how elecampane got its name. (That's an herb pun, cause the root of elecampane is used primarily in medicinal preparations). Maude Grieve summarizes all of the myths: it grows in abundance on the island of Saint Helen, some say that Helen of Troy carried elecampane when she was captured and taken to Troy, others that the flowers sprouted from her tears upon her capture, some say it grew from the tears she shed when her husband's steersman died, and that she used the plant to remedy a venemous bite. Inula derives from the Greek word "to heal" and Romans often added campana (refering to an area of Campania near Naples that suited elecampane's preference for rich, damp soil and shady areas) to the name inula an thus we have elecampane.

The environment that elecampane prefers to grow in mimics the conditions in our body that it's well suited for: cool, wet and kind of sluggish. Elecampane is warming and stimulating well suited for stubborn coughs and bronchial infections that won't move, it's super remedy for our lungs. I like to work with it when I a tickling cough that's coming on but kind of feels like it hangs at the top of my lungs at the bottom of my throat. It's most commonly indicated for green phlegm situations: bronchitis, pneumonia, a chronic cough that exhibits the same type of symptoms. Elecampane has the incredible ability to go deep, to the root of the illness that is producing these types of coughs and help move everything up and out. Often people are confused that elecampane is making their illness worse, it's not. The object of a cough is to expel, not to suppress, your body wants that stuff out. For the love of all that is green, help your body do its proper work and find the plants that can alleviate any discomfort along the way. Elecampane is just this plant.

I like to make a syrup from elecampane root using honey and dried orange peel. I prefer not to cook it, preserving the infection fighting power of honey and the pungent bitterness of fresh elecampane. I truly love it, I chew on it while I make the syrup or sometimes just go to my fridge to snap a piece off. I like to buy a lot of root in the fall and keep it in my refrigerator, it will keep for months under the right conditions: a dry plastic bag is nice. The fresh root releases liquid into the honey, making it naturally syrupy. You can keep it in your fridge for 3 months. I make small batches, it takes no time and is delicious straight off the spoon or on yogurt with granola.


Elecampane Syrup

1 medium elecampane root (20 grams)

1 1/2 teaspoons dried orange peel (5 grams)

about 1/3 cup honey

Set a small pot of water on a low flame and put your jar of honey in it, warm the honey for a few minutes so that it is pourable. In the meantime, finely chop the elecampane root: this is not a fancy brunoise situation, but if you must, then be precise. You should have about 2 T of elecampane root or 20 grams.  

Combine the chopped elecampane and dried orange peel in small jar, pour enough honey to cover. None of this has to be exactly measured, the point is to have a honey to solids ratio that won't spoil: when you cap and shake the jar the solids are suspended with enough space to float around without being super crammed. Let it sit at room temperature for a half hour, then taste it. Label with the contents and date and store in the refrigerator to maximize its shelf life.