Elecampane

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

elecampane Inula helenium, a large plant, related to the sunflower, which grows wild in Europe and has become naturalized in N. America. Its rhizome and root (‘white within and full of substance, sweet of smell and bitter of taste’, as Gerard, 1633, put it) have many traditional uses in medicine, often mentioned in Saxon herbals and the Middle Ages. The plant used to be cultivated, mainly for such purposes; but the candied root was also regarded as a sweetmeat.

Fernie (1895) records that in the mid-19th century candy made from elecampane was still being sold in flat round cakes in London, and that this was eaten at night and in the morning as a cure for asthma, and nibbled on journeys which exposed a traveller to ‘poisonous exhalations’.