It’s winter and the garden is quiet. The plants have pretty much stopped growing. It would appear that everything is either dead or dormant. But under the earth, the roots are vibrant. One of the plants that I love to gather in the winter is Elecampane Inula helenium. It is the root I seek. I walk into the garden past the raspberries, around the cherry tree. I pass the enormous stand of comfrey and in the corner, at the bottom of the garden grows the Elecampane plant. I know it is there, although I am not sure I will find remnants of it….perhaps a dried up leaf, laying on the ground, but maybe not even that. But I know its root is vibrant beneath the wet and cold earth.
I have my hori hori knife in hand and I begin to dig about six inches away from where it grows. I carefully remove the soil and look for a root. Is this it? No, that’s nettle root. I keep trying and I eventually find a root growing out sideways from the place I know to be the center, where the stalk emerges.
The Elecampane plant is forgiving. I can find these long roots growing sideways and cut them off with my hori hori knife. The plant offers them and is none the worse for wear. I am grateful. I always taste a bit to make sure it is indeed Elecampane. Pungent and a little nasty tasting. Ah-yes. I am successful.
I gather enough to make a quart of tincture and a small jar of honey. Sometimes, I gather a bit more when apprentices are with me. This plant has supported me and those who have utilized the tincture and honey I have made quite well. The first time I took it was when I had a cold and just kept coughing and coughing.(you know, that mucous-filled cough) I had some infused honey and put it in tea and drank it. I did this every couple of hours for the next day and my cough was better and pretty much gone by the next evening. (Recipes to follow).
This plants is supportive to our lungs. It is said that the lungs carry sadness. I can see that this plant with its pungent vibrancy is supporting the release of our emotions that get backed up in us. Physical healing, yes, and emotional healing from holding onto grief.
One of the truly wonderful things about Elecampane root is that it contains quite a bit of inulin, a starchy substance that is released into the medicine you make, especially the tincture. Inulin is a prebiotic and thus nourishes our gut flora. Most inulin producing plants are best harvested at the beginning of the Autumn, but Elecampane has plenty of inulin, even in the dead of winter. I have been reading a lot lately about how much of the immune system is in the gut as well as the nervous system. Inulin-rich Elecampane root can support our health and well-being through nourishing our intestinal flora.
There is something very mysterious about this type of healing…think-listening to your gut/intuition. Perhaps this plant supports the place in us that knows. The place in us that knows healing and it knows what we need. How miraculous to support the gut to work optimally and to connect us more deeply with who we are.
Although winter time is when I gather Elecampane, I long to see it growing in its spirited abundance in the middle of summer. It grows very tall, with large leaves. The flowers are large yellow suns. This brightness and beauty of reflecting the sun in summer adds to the vibrant root energy of releasing sadness.
And so you can see that Elecampane is a ally for us as humans, who feel deeply, who enjoy exploring the mysteries of life and who long to know more and more about who we are.
Connecting with the Elecampane Plant: If you have an opportunity to visit the plant in the middle of summer, take some time, standing near it and notice your breath. As you breath, imagine you are breathing in the breath of the Elecampane and as you breath out, offer your breath to the plant. Listen and see what it has for you. Can you hear it speaking to you? Perhaps its a feeling or an image that comes into your mind. This too is the healing that the plant offers you. If it is the root with which you are connecting, you can do this same breath as you dig the root or even when you have the root ready for chopping. Take some time to connect. Offer gratitude.
Here are some recipes for making and utilizing Elecampane root:
Tincture: Follow the schematic above to harvest the root. Wash the root well, removing as much dirt as you can. We use a garden hose to do this. Chop the root up into very small pieces and put them in a jar, filled about half full. Pour 100 proof vodka over this to the top of the jar and put a lid on it. Label your jar with name and date. Let this sit for six weeks and then you can strain it through a cloth-covered strainer. Keep this away from direct sunlight. It will last a long time. You will begin to see the inulin being released within a couple of days of making the tincture. The inulin will collect at the bottom of the jar. For mucous-filled coughs, use a dropperful (25 drops) of tincture every couple of hours until the cough begins to subside. Then you can take it morning and night until it is gone. To release sadness, a dropperful once a day will suffice.
Honey Electuary: In the same manner as above, gather and prepare the Elecampane root. Pour local raw honey (this is best, but any honey will do) over the root to fill the jar. You can toss and turn the jar occasionally. You can utilize this preparation after about a week. It is quite potent though if you wait at least six weeks. This will last a long time too. I don’t strain the honey. I just plop some in boiling water or tea and kinda drink around the root pieces.
Offering gratitude for the plants: The plants, including the Elecampane plant, are here to offer their nourishment and healing to us. Saying thank you, in the way that feels best to you, is a wonderful practice and allows us to be fully engaged in life. Even if it is the root that you purchase from an herb shop. Before you utilize it, connect with it, with your breath, and then offer gratitude to it for its gifts.
May it be in Beauty.