Elecampane. Inula helenium L.
OTHER COMMON NAMES—Inula, inul, horseheal, elf-dock, elfwort, horse-elder, scabwort, yellow starwort, velvet dock, wild sunflower.
HABITAT AND RANGE—This perennial herb has been naturalized from Europe, and is found along the roadsides and in fields and damp pastures from Nova Scotia to North Carolina, westward to Missouri and Minnesota. It is a native also in Asia,
DESCRIPTION OF PLANT —When in flower elecampane resembles the sunflower on a small scale. Like the sunflower, it is a member of the aster family (Asteraceae). It is a rough plant, growing from 3 to 6 feet in height, but producing during the first year only root leaves, which attain considerable size. In the following season the stout densely hairy stem develops, attaining a height of from 3 to 6 feet.
The leaves are broadly oblong in form, toothed, the upper surface rough and the under side densely soft-hairy. The basal or root leaves are borne on long sterns, and are from 10 to 20 inches long and 4 to 8 inches wide, while the upper leaves are smaller and stemless or clasping.
About July to September the terminal flowerheads are produced, either singly or a few together. As already stated, these flower heads look very much like small sunflowers, 2 to 4 inches broad, and consist of long, narrow, yellow rays, 3 toothed at the apex, and the disk also is yellow.
DESCRIPTION OF ROOT—Elecampane has a large, long, branching root, pale yellow on the outside and whitish and fleshy within. When dry the outside turns a grayish brown or dark brown, and is generally finely wrinkled lengthwise. As found in commerce, elecampane is usually in transverse or lengthwise slices, light Yellow or grayish and fleshy internally, dotted with numerous shining resin cells, and with overlapping brown or wrinkled bark. These slices become flexible in damp weather and tough but when they are dry they break with a short fracture. The root has at first a strongly aromatic odor, which has been described by some as resembling a violet odor, but this diminished in drying. The taste is aromatic, bitterish and pungent.
COLLECTION, PRICES, AND USES—The best time for collecting elecampane is in the fall of the second year. If collected later than that the roots are apt to be stringy and woody. Owing to the interlacing habit of the rootlets, much dirt adheres to the root, but it should be well cleaned, cut into transverse or lengthwise slices, and carefully dried in the shade. Collectors receive from 3 to 5 cents a pound for this root.
Elecampane, which was official in the United States Pharmacopeia of 1890, is much used in affections of the respiratory organs, in digestive and liver disorders, catarrhal discharges and skin diseases.