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History---Elecampane was known to the ancient writers on agriculture and natural history, and even the Roman poets were acquainted with it, and mention Inula as affording a root used both as a medicine and a condiment. Horace, in the Eighth Satire, relates how Fundanius first taught the making of a delicate sauce by boiling in it the bitter Inula, and how the Romans, after dining too richly, pined for turnips and the appetizing Enulas acidas:
'Quum rapula plenus
Atque acidas mavult inulas.'
Inula, the Latin classical name for the plant, is considered to be a corruption of the Greek word Helenion which in its Latinized form, Helenium, is also now applied to the same species. There are many fables about the origin of this name. Gerard tells us: 'It took the name Helenium of Helena, wife of Menelaus, who had her hands full of it when Paris stole her away into Phrygia.' Another legend states that it sprang from her tears: another that Helen first used it against venomous bites; a fourth, that it took the name from the island Helena, where the best plants grew.
Vegetius Renatus about the beginning of the fifth century, calls it Inula campana, and St. Isidore, in the beginning of the seventh, names it Inula, adding 'quam Alam rustici vocant.' By the mediaeval writers it was often written Enula. Elecampane is a corruption of the ante-Linnaean name Enula campana, so called from its growing wild in Campania.
The herb is of ancient medicinal repute, having been described by Dioscorides and Pliny. An old Latin distich celebrates its virtues: Enula campana reddit praecordia sana (Elecampane will the spirits sustain). 'Julia Augustus,' said Pliny, 'let no day pass without eating some of the roots of Enula, considered to help digestion and cause mirth.' The monks equally esteemed it as a cordial. Pliny affirmed that the root 'being chewed fasting, doth fasten the teeth,' and Galen that 'It is good for passions of the hucklebone called sciatica.'
Dioscorides, in speaking of Castus root, related that it is often mixed with that of Elecampane, from Kommagene (N.W. Syria) (Castus, derived from Aplotaxis auriculata (D.C.), is remarkably similar to Elecampane, both in external appearance and structure. It is an important spice, incense and medicine in the East.)
Elecampane is frequently mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon writings on medicine current in England prior to the Norman Conquest; it is also the 'Marchalan' of the Welsh physicians of the thirteenth century, and was generally known during the Middle Ages.
It was formally cultivated in all private herb-gardens, as a culinary and medicinal plant, and it is still to be found in old cottage gardens. Not only was its root much employed as a medicine, but it was also candied and eaten as a sweetmeat. Dr. Fernie tells us, in Herbal Simples:
'Some fifty years ago, the candy was sold commonly in London as flat, round cakes being composed largely of sugar and coloured with cochineal. A piece was eaten each night and morning for asthmatical complaints, whilst it was customary when travelling by a river, to suck a bit of the root against poisonous exalations and bad air. The candy may still be had from our confectioners, but now containing no more of the plant Elecampane than there is of barley in Barley Sugar.'
In Denmark, Elecampane is sometimes called Elf-Doc. Here one sometimes comes across the name Elf-Dock locally, also Elfwort.
Elecampane - Inula helenium - Wild yellow flower, much like a sunflower -The Ancient writers mention Inula as affording a root used both as a medicine and a condiment. The origin of the name helenium probably came from Helen of Troy. She had a large arm full of these flowers when Paris stole her from her husband Menelaus that started the Trojan War that lasted ten years. When Paris was killed Helen returned to Menelaus and through difficulty they returned to Sparta where they lived happily ever after. Elecampane is used medicinally and the roots can be candied and eaten as a sweet.