January 21, 2020

Reaching for the Sun

Inula helenium - Elecampane

Inula helenium - Elecampane - Photo courtesy of Emma Chapin/The Heirloom Garden of Maine

What can you do with a plant that has the common names of elfdock, elfwort, horse-heal, scabwort and velvet dock, just to name a few? A lot it seems. Elecampane, another of its names, is Inula helenium, a perennial herb that has naturalized in the United States, although it is thought its roots are in Eurasia. If its height of up to 8 feet didn’t give it away, then the sunshine-yellow rays that make up its flowers should point directly to the plant family that includes sunflowers. Medicinally, elecampane has been used in many ways, including treatment for lung ailments, such as bronchitis and asthma. It also is used with horses and livestock, specifically treating skin diseases in horses and sheep, hence its horse-heal moniker. Elecampane contains a high concentration of inulin, which has become increasingly popular as an ingredient in processed foods because it has little impact on blood sugar.

Today’s Daily Plant is a collaboration of Garden Maine and The Heirloom Garden of Maine, which grows elecampane.