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Root Medicine: Focus on Elecampane

It has been a busy year. Summer and fall were quite busy and I am looking forward to some hybrination time this winter. As the weather changes, I have been working with my students on digging up roots. Digging roots is probably one of my favorite herbalist activities.

Roots provide deep medicine and I always find that they are a reminder of the need for deep reflection. They beckon me to go under, to take time out, to see what has not been seen or is not obvious. As I prepare root medicine, I see the medicine that will be there as cold and flu season unfurls, that will comfort myself and others through the winter months.

One of my favorite root medicines is Elecampane (Inula helenium). Elecampane is a plant in the Asteraceae family. In the summer you can see it standing tall with several yellow asters, sunflowers perched on her sturdy tall stem. One common name for this plant is elf dock, referring to its large leaves.

Elecampane (Inula helenium) is one of my favorite herbs for opening the respiratory system and treating infection. It’s high inulin (a prebiotic substance) content and bitter taste, render it an ally for the digestive system. There are many ways to transform this into medicine, but simply chewing on a small piece of the root is quite effective!

Making an oxymel of the root is one of my favorite ways to prepare this root for medicine.

~An oxymel is just a sweet and sour herbal syrup. It contains: vinegar, honey & herbs. They’re very beneficial for respiratory conditions, so the herbs included in this preparation will often have an effect on this system.

How to make an oxymel 

~Fill a jar about half to three-fourths full of herbs.

~Pour the jar 1/3 with honey. Ideally this would be raw local honey. Stir the herb and honey together.

~Fill the jar 2/3 or the rest of the way with vinegar OR for a sweeter syrup, try 1/2 jar honey and 1/2 jar vinegar. (I am using raw apple cider vinegar).

*the amounts that you use can be flexible. Both honey and vinegar act as preservatives, so you’re not going to ruin the mixture by altering the ratios.

~Stir it all together; it might not blend well at first, but it will settle and blend over time. Just stir and or shake until it is blended.

~Let the herbs steep in the mixture for 4-6 weeks.

Then strain the herbs out, bottle it up and store in a cool place or the refrigerator.

Take oxymels by the spoonful for sore throats, thick congested coughs or as a general treatment to combat colds and flu.

Additional herbs recommended for use in oxymels

*Elderberries (Sambucus sp):  relieves flu symptoms, alleviates allergies, and boosting to overall respiratory and immune health
*Bee Balm (Monarda sp): eases a sore throat, antibacterial, relieves thick congested coughs as well as fever
*Elderflowers (Sambucus sp): specific for sore throats, immune-stimulating and antiviral
*, Garlic & Onion: fights colds and flu, boosts immune health (it is suggested that these herbs are minced & that the mixture be refrigerated)

*Horseradish: opens the respiratory system and fights off infection.
*Mint, Ginger and/or fennel: stomach-soothing, digestive aid
*Oregano: antibacterial, antiviral, useful for upper respiratory infections
*Rosemary: Useful for low energy and poor circulation, good for digestion and nerves.
*Sage: antifungal, antibacterial, antiviral.

*Thyme: for upper respiratory infections, coughs, bronchitis, antiviral and antibacterial.

*Lemon or orange peel can be added for their bioflavonoids, vitamin C and flavor

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