PNW Landscape Plant Guide

brought to you by the plant geeks at Calendula Farm

Elecampane (Inula helenium)

This is one of our favorite medicinal herbs not only for its help with respiratory congestion, digestive issues, and skin irritations, but also because it dominates the garden stage with a dramatic performance. It is statuesque and showy from top to bottom.

References to Elecampane go back to ancient Egyptian, Assyrian, and Minoan cultures. It has been in the Traditional Chinese Medicine, Tibetan, and Ayurvedic pharmacology for millennia. It naturalized in Ireland long ago and shows up richly in traditional healing practice and folklore. There, it has been called Elf-dock, Elf-wort, Horse-heal and Scab-wort. Recent research has found compounds in Elecampane have good antibiotic properties, especially against staphylococcus. We like to steep pieces of the root with our morning tea in winter to keep our lungs and gut in tip top shape.

In the garden, Elecampane wakes up from winter dormancy in late April and grows quickly to a 4-5 foot tall tower of huge slightly fuzzy leaves. The leaves resemble comfrey and foxglove. Multiple stalks rise from the root and then start branching, each branch tip blooming in June with 4 inch brilliant yellow finely petaled daisies that pollinating insects of all sorts go crazy for. Blooming lasts for about a month, then it goes to seed. We cut it back at this point and the root will send up more shoots that stay shorter for the rest of summer. We harvest the bizarre alien-looking root in winter.