Native to Asia, horseheal (or elfdock) is a herbaceous perennial belonging to the « Inula » genus, which is part of the aster (or Asteraceae) family. Famous for its therapeutic and medicinal properties,
this plant, also called elecampane, was regularly prescribed on a therapeutic basis by Hippocrates (460 to 370 BC).
In the Middle Ages, it was a standard plant in the healing herb gardens of monasteries.
There are over a hundred horse-heal species, most of which are perennial. A biennial and an annual, too, horseheal (or medicinal elecampane) generally grows in forest clearings, in ditches and along cool walkways in the temperate areas of Africa, Europe and Asia.
Horse-heal or Inula helenium, a short story
According to its etymological root, the word “inula”, comes from ancient Greek “ineo” which means “I purge”.
As for the added name “helenium”, Greek mythology tells the story of Helen of Troy (daughter of Zeus and Leda) wept as she was stolen away by Prince Paris. From the tears grew this elfdock plant, and from the kidnapping arose the great Trojan wars.
Other legends say that the beautiful Helen had a branch of horseheal at hand when she was swept away.
So the original name Helena was passed on and, a bit distorted, ended up describing the plant Inula helenium (or horseheal).
Christian beliefs, however, made this plant a symbol of healing of the soul after having confessed one’s sins. This was because horse-heal’s medicinal powers were so effective it mirrored God’s mercy in the forgiveness of sins. Hence the saying “Elecampane will the spirits sustain”.
Today, elfdock is used for medicinal and culinary purposes.
Elecampane description, species and names
The Asteraceae family comprises more than 13,000 species.
From about a hundred species, a few Inula species are grown industrially in fields.
It can be described as having large, oval leaves, rough to the touch with a cottony underside, and stems that can reach 6 ½ feet (2 meters) feet tall.
Its yellow-colored flowers look very similar to those of dandelions and can grow up to 32 inches (80 cm) high.
The different names of this perennial plant, which sometimes grows in clusters that get quite large, are diverse and varied: elecampane, horseheal, elfdock, perennial sun, horseman’s herb, enulacapany…
Therapeutic benefits of Inula helenium
Expectorant, invigorating, emmenagogue, diuretic, cholagogue, stomachic … the list of elfdock benefits grows on and on!
A mysterious plant that is remarkable thanks to its medicinal properties, use of horseheal is recommended to regulate anemia triggered by abundant menstrual flow.
With high levels of inulin, horseheal or elecampane is said to be useful to treat diabetes.
A soothing antiseptic, inula helenium has been used to heal respiratory tract diseases (pulmonary tuberculosis, bronchial asthma, cough, tracheitis, bronchitis…), cutaneous or skin conditions, bedsores, ulcers and itches.
Other diseases, disorders and ailments such as nephritis (inflammation of a kidney), absence of menstruation, discharges, gout, intestinal parasites, diarrhea have also been healed thanks to this precious plant.
In Herbalism, elfdock is also prescribed in case of overall tiredness and it has multiple attributes. It is a:
– de-wormer to destroy or expel worms or intestinal parasites
– emmenagogue to stimulate blood flow to the uterus and pelvic area
– antiviral to slow or stop a viral infection
– choleretic to trigger bile secretion
– antifungal to treat mycosis
– respiratory antispasmodic
Culinary appeal of Inula helenium
For centuries, medicinal activity of horseheal has been attested by herbalists and today this continues in modern medicine (for cancer treatments for instance).
However, it is more than that.
Today, its culinary appeal is well known and acclaimed.
Indeed, the root (or rhizome) of the horse-man’s herb is edible in a decoction.
To flavor desserts, cakes, fruit salads and even liquor, grated Inula delivers a powerful delicious aroma.
Accordingly, to ensure easy digestion, it’s recommended to chop elecampane roots up and to candy them into a sugar syrup.
To savor your meals differentlty, you can also garnish them with the yellow flowers of this precious plant, or even cook its leaves and ingest them without limitation.
Horseheal, elecampane use and dosages
To fight against cutaneous conditions, itches, it is an external application of inula that is prescribed.
For that, in 1 quart (1 liter) water, toss 1 oz (30 g) dried roots and macerate. Dip a compress in this decoction and clean the affected area with it. Renew application 2 to 3 times a day.
To prepare an infusion, prepare 1 ½ oz (50 g) for 1 quart (1 liter) cold water. After that, bring it to boiling. Toss the plant in, cut the heat and steep for ¼ hour. You can drink 2 to 6 cups a day.
In a decoction: 0.3 to 0.7 oz (10 to 20 g) leaves for 1 quart (1 liter) water. Drink 1 cup before each meal.
As a fluid extract: and amount of 1/6 to ⅓ oz (5 to 10 g) a day is recommended.
Once dried and powdered, the rhizome can also be swallowed as is with any other liquid. A dose ranging from 1/12 to ⅓ oz (2 to 10 g) a day is enough.
As a tincture: one dose of 15 to 20 drops, 4 to 5 times a day, is recommended.
Useful tips about elecampane or Inula helenium
Since it triggers uterine contractions, horseheal is not recommended for a pregnant or nursing woman.
Inula helenium or elfdock isn’t dangerous if the recommended dose is followed.
Conversely, if taken in excessive amounts, it may lead to contact allergy, cramps, allergic dermatitis, paralysis, diarrhea and vomiting.