Elecampane: Herb of the Week
If you listened to last Friday’s podcast, you know that Ryn was sick last week with what we affectionately called the “Lung Crud Plague”. If you’re also sick with lung crud, Elecampane is the herb for you!
But before we talk about the why, let’s just get this right out in the open: Elecampane tastes like peppery mud. There’s no point in adding honey, that literally only makes it worse. (though, we always tell our students not to believe anything we say until they test it out themselves, so once a student tested that advice – she regretted it, but got bonus points for testing it!) You can improve the flavor marginally with other strong-flavored roots like Ginger, Cinnamon, and Angelica, but if you’re really super sick, I don’t recommend trying. Instead, here’s what I do: make a good strong decoction and leave it on the stove. Every hour that you’re not sleeping, go get a shot glass full and just swallow it down. Then drink an entire cup of something delicious – like ginger and cinnamon, and maybe some cardamom, yum! Toss some Mullein in there, too, while you’re at it! But let the Elecampane just be medicine, and slug it down like a champ. After a while, you may come to really appreciate the not-in-any-way delicate peppery-muddy flavor, and you may come to add it to things voluntarily! Why would you want to? Well…
Pliny the Elder said that Elecampane can help digestion and cause mirth – and if you’ve been keeping up with current research about the microbiome and how it affects mental and emotional health, that doesn’t seem like a strange combination of actions. Elecampane contains a whole lot of inulin – a prebiotic fiber that feeds probiotic gut friends. Having a healthy microbiome is more than just taking a probiotic capsule now and then – you also have to FEED them! The current “Standard American Diet” doesn’t contain much of the types of foods that beneficial probiotics want to eat, but it does have lots of sugar and simple starch that less friendly bacteria (etc) want to eat, which leads to dysbiosis. Even if you’re actively taking probiotics, they will still need food or they can’t help you. So it’s Elecampane to the rescue! OK, yes, there’s the peppery mud issue. But I’ve found that the flavor of peppery mud actually goes really well with coffee! (decaf, in my case) I’ve mentioned notCoffee before, and you might remember I always add Ashwagandha and Angelica. I also like to put in Elecampane for that amazing inulin fiber boost! The strong coffee flavor makes the whole blend really delicious – just add almond milk! Once you drink it down, you might notice there’s some “sludgy” stuff at the bottom of your cup – that’s the inulin! So make sure to give it a stir every now and then while you’re drinking so that you get all that inulin mixed into every sip!
Elecampane is one of the few warming bitters. Along with Angelica and Calamus, Elecampane is fantastic for stimulating digestive function, especially in folks who run cold. How do you know if you run cold? Well, how many layers are you wearing today? If you’re the first person in the room to put on a sweater – or if you never leave home without one – that’s a good indication! Other ways to know that you have a cold constitution (even if you have a warm personality!) are if you have hypothyroid symptoms, if you tend towards constipation, if you have slow circulation – all these things are indications that you run cold. Don’t worry though: there are herbs that can warm you right up, and Elecampane is one of them! Digestion is a process that requires a lot of heat, and by taking Elecampane right before a meal, you’re not only getting that bitter action that stimulates all of the digestive secretions, but you’re ALSO getting that warming action, to make sure you can fully digest everything you’re eating. For this purpose, a tincture is totally sufficient, and you can just have a dropperful 10 minutes or so before your meals. But in light of the prebiotic inulin content, if you can get down with the flavor, why not have some decoction instead – that way you get the warming bitter action, AND the prebiotic fiber, all in one!
Historically, Elecampane was the choice for very serious respiratory infections, even tuberculosis. In modern medicine, Elecampane is just as impressive: it’s being studied for MRSA, especially hospital-acquired infections in the respiratory tract (after intubation, for example). The efficacy may be due in part to Elecampane’s ability to disrupt biofilms – which is when bacteria join together to form a barrier in defense against the immune system. Biofilm as a concept was only very recently discovered by science – bacteria have known about them for a long time, it just took us a while to figure it out! And interestingly, I think that people through history knew about them too, just without the terminology, because the herbs that we’re now discovering have biofilm disrupting actions are the herbs that traditionally were understood to “draw out” infection, or were combined with others in formula to fight infection, not because of their direct immune action, but because of that “drawing out” kind of action. I think it’s really worth exploring that kind of thing – the traditional way these plants were thought of and how that actually tracks with what we find with microscopes. To get back to the point, Elecampane is a very potent biofilm disruptor – and it works on its own, but they’re also finding that it can actually make antibiotics effective against antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria! So whether you’re off the medical grid or taking antibiotics, Elecampane can help fight your deep-seated, phlegmy-gunky lung crud.
What’s YOUR favorite way to work with Elecampane?
Want to learn more about herbs to keep your friends and family healthy all year ’round? Check out our Family Herbalist program – everything you need to know about more than 85 herbs, and how to make all the different kinds of herbal medicines!
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