Here on the eastern end of Prince Edward Island the day is cold and sky is pale grey, though it’s already June 5th. Through my window I can see some scraggly spruce trees rocking in the breeze. This gives me hope that the mosquitoes and black flies which have arrived in the past week will not be too troublesome today. I want to dig up my “lasagna” garden, an area I covered last fall with layers of newspapers, leaves, mulch etc. That lasagna patch of ground is not, I regret to say, the lovely plot of soft friable dirt I had anticipated. Rather, it continues to be a mat of roots as solid and dense as concrete! So much for all those layers! This digging will not be fun. But is digging ever fun? Nevertheless, if I can soften the area enough, I will plant carrots, lettuce and onions there today, and, like Mr MacGregor, wait for Peter Rabbit with a threatening scowl.
One of the other things I plan to plant today is some elecampane root which I brought over from my wild jungle of a garden in Halifax Nova Scotia, the garden (if you can call it that) of our soon to be sold house. That back yard garden in Halifax is a sea of forget-me-nots, tulips that have gone feral, rocket, dreaded gout weed, feverfew, jolly yellow dandelions up to your knees, and, of course elecampane with it’s big pale green oval leaves and spidery veins. It resembles dock and comfrey and is easy to identify. Anyway, if these Haligonian elecampane plants manage to survive in their new Island home of clay-ish soil, I will dig up the roots in the fall and make a tincture with them, maybe a cough syrup too.
Halifax back yard jungle
You, reader, may also decide to make elecampane tincture, and you will no doubt do, just as I have done: consult Google, informer of all things. I haven’t actually taken elecampane as a medicine but have heard that it is helpful in the treatment of lung infections, coughs of various kinds, and bronchitis in particular. This winter I plan to give it a try, if not for myself, then for friends of mine suffering from lung ailments and willing to trust me with such a concoction.
Elecampane is a handsome creature: tall and flamboyantly yellow, a wild flower who demands recognition by her sheer size and bright sunflower like blooms. This September or October I will harvest the roots (if they survive) when the moon is waning. The waning moon is apparently the best time to gather roots because the energy of the moon, as its light diminishes, is pushing downward, rather than pulling upward as it does when the moon is waxing.
I expect I’ll put the roots on a screen for a few days to dry them out before I chop them into bits. The pieces will go in a glass jar covered with the highest proof alcohol I can get my hands on. Then I will wait six weeks or so, strain the mixture and put it in a bottle with a label that says Elecampane, as well as its Latin name, “Inula helenium,” plus the date I dug up the roots. I love the Latin names for herbs as they so often point to stories. In elecampane’s case, the helenium is connected to the tears Helen of Troy, shed when she was abducted from her Sparta homeland by her lover Paris. As her tears hit the ground, golden Inula helenium sprang up!
It’s centuries since Homer wrote about Helen, but knowledge of elecampane’s medicinal properties also dates back to the Romans. More recently, 19th century herbalists as renowned as Maud Griev and Nicholas Culpepper recommended elecampane for various afflictions, and modern herbalists also subscribe to its efficacy. I’m definitely going to see if it helps with coughs.
I’ll put it on the side of that confounded lasagna garden, in amongst the other weeds and couch grass, and beside the fat self satisfied comfrey and the marching troops of nettles, I’ll plant those elecampane roots and see what happens. And if you have a cough, drop me a line: firstname.lastname@example.org