Herbs & Plants

Inula helenium

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Botanical Name : Inula helenium
Family: Asteraceae
Tribe: Inuleae
Genus: Inula
Species: I. helenium
Kingdom: Plantae
Order: Asterales

Synonyms: Aster helenium. Aster officinalis. Corvisartia helenium. Helenium grandiflorum. Elfdock; Aunee (French); Enula campana (Spanish); Echter Alant (German); Enula campana (Italian)

Common Names: Elecampane , Wild sunflower, Yellow Starwort, Horse-heal or Marchalan

Habitat :Inula helenium grows throughout central and Southern Europe, and in Asia as far eastwards as the Himalayas. It is naturalized in North America. It grows in fields, waysides, waste places, copses etc, often on moist soils in shade.

Inula helenium is a perennial and rather rigid herb, the stem of which attains a height of from 90 cm to 150 cm (3 to 5 feet); the leaves are large and toothed, the lower ones stalked, the rest embracing the stem; the flowers are yellow, 5 cm (2 inches) broad, and have many rays, each three-notched at the extremity. The root is thick, branching and mucilaginous, and has a warm, bitter taste and a camphoraceous odor with sweet floral (similar to violet) undertones.
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It is hardy to zone 5. It is in flower from Jul to August, and the seeds ripen from Aug to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, lepidoptera, self.The plant is self-fertile.

An easily grown plant, it grows well in moist shady positions in ordinary garden soil, though it grows best in a good loamy soil. Succeeds in an ordinary garden soil in a sunny position. Plants are also tolerant of considerable neglect, succeeding on our Cornwall trial ground even when left unweeded for four years. Elecampane has a long history of cultivation as a medicinal herb, though it is not commonly grown nowadays. When first dug up, the roots smell like ripe bananas, but as they dry they take on the scent of violets.

Seed – sow in spring or autumn in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer. If you have sufficient seed, it could be worthwhile trying an outdoor sowing in situ in the spring. Division in spring or autumn. Fairly small pieces of root can be used, so long as each piece has a growth bud on it. Very easy, larger clumps can be replanted direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them on in a cold frame until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the spring. Root cuttings in winter. Cut sections of root about 5cm long, place them in a warm greenhouse over the winter and they should grow away vigorously

Edible Uses:
Leaves – cooked. Rather bitter and aromatic, they were used as a potherb by the ancient Romans but are rarely used at present. Root – candied and eaten as a sweetmeat. It contains up to 44% inulin. Inulin is a starch that cannot be digested by humans. It usually passes straight through the digestive system, though it can ferment and cause wind problems for some people. Inulin can be converted into a sugar that is suitable for diabetics to eat. The Council of Europe list Inula helenium as a natural food flavouring.

Medicinal Uses:
Alterative;  Anthelmintic;  Antiseptic;  Antitussive;  Astringent;  Bitter;  Cholagogue;  Demulcent;  Diaphoretic;  Diuretic;  Expectorant;  Stimulant;  Stomachic;  Tonic.

Elecampane has a long history of use as a medicinal herb. A gently warming and tonic herb, it is especially effective in treating coughs, consumption, bronchitis and many other complaints of the chest as well as disorders of the digestive system. A very safe herb to use, it is suitable for the old and the young and especially useful when the patient is debilitated. It cleanses toxins from the body, stimulating the immune and digestive systems and treating bacterial and fungal infections. The root is alterative, anthelmintic, antiseptic, astringent, bitter, cholagogue, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, mildly expectorant, gently stimulant, stomachic, tonic. It is best harvested in the autumn from plants that are two years old, and it can be dried for later use. The roots should be at least 3 years old according to another report. This remedy should not be prescribed for pregnant women. An extract of the plant is a powerful antiseptic and bactericide, particularly effective against the organism that causes TB. The root contains alantolactone, which is strongly anthelmintic. In a 1:1000 dilution it kills the parasitic worm Ascaris in 16 hours. Alantolactone has an anti-inflammatory action, it also reduces mucous secretions and stimulates the immune system. The plant is sometimes recommended as an external wash for skin inflammations and varicose ulcers, but has been known to cause allergic reactions

For medicinal purposes, the roots should be procured from plants not more than two or three years old. Besides inulin (C6H12O6[C6H10O5]n), a body isomeric with starch, the root contains helenin (C15H20O2), a stearoptene, which may be prepared in white acicular crystals, insoluble in water, but freely soluble in alcohol. When freed from the accompanying inula-camphor by repeated crystallization from alcohol, helenin melts at 110 °C.

Recent science:
Susan O’Shea, a research student at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), Ireland, has shown that extracts from the herb kill methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as well as a broad spectrum of other bacteria.

Other Uses  
Dye;  Essential.

A blue dye is obtained from the bruised and macerated root mixed with ashes and whortleberries (Vaccinium myrtillus)[4, 46, 61]. The root yields up to 2% of a camphor-scented essential oil, this is used as a flavouring and medicinally.

In France and Switzerland it is used in the manufacture of absinthe.

Known Hazards: This herb may have  allergic reactions. Potential to interfere with the treatment of diabetes mellitus and high blood pressure. Avoid if history of allergy

Disclaimer : The information presented herein is intended for educational purposes only. Individual results may vary, and before using any supplement, it is always advisable to consult with your own health care provider



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Herbs & Plants

Hoja Santa

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Mexican Pepperleaf (Piper auritum Kunth)
Plant family: Piperaceae (pepper family)

Hoja santa (Piper auritum, synonymous with Piper sanctum) is an aromatic herb with a heart-shaped, velvety leaf which grows in tropic Mesoamerica. The name hoja santa means “sacred leaf” in Spanish.A Mexican legend says that Virgin Mary dried diapers of the infant Jesus on the bush of this plant, hence the name. It is also known as yerba santa, hierba santa, Mexican pepperleaf, root beer plant, and sacred pepper.

The hoja santa (sacred leaf), hoja de la estrella (leaf of the star), or Veracruz pepper (Piper auritum Kunth) has a native range from southern Mexico into northern South America. It is a successional plant found in moist forests where gaps in the canopy allow some sunlight to the forest floor. Although it is considered a shade-loving plant, hoja santa will not tolerate deep shade.

Tropic Mesoamerica (Southern México, Guatemala, Panamá, Northern Colombia).

Plant Description:
Hoja santa has a knobby herbaceous stem and grows up to six meters in height supporting itself with prop roots near the base of the stem. The large leaves arise alternately along the stem. Hoja santa blooms with a myriad of tiny reduced flowers arranged along a thin arching spike.The leaves can reach up to 30 centimeter (12 in) or more in size. The complex flavor of hoja santa is not so easily described; it has been compared to eucalyptus, licorice, sassafras, anise,nutmeg, mint, tarragon, and black pepper. The flavor is stronger in the young stems and veins The flowers consist of a pistil with a fringed stigma, two anthers, and a small peltate (umbrella-shaped) bract. The flowers are followed by a single-seeded fruit, a drupe. The seeds are dispersed by frugivorous (fruit-eating) bats.


Sensory quality:
Aromatic and pleasant, loosely reminiscent to anise, nutmeg and black pepper. The flavour is strongest in the young stems and veins, which have additionally a pleasant warming pungency.

Main constituents:
The essential oil from the leaves (0.2%) is rich in safrole (up to 80%), a substance with pleasant odour. Furthermore, a large number of mono- and sesquiterpenoids have been found

A heart-shaped, dinner plate-sized leaf is making its way onto restaurant tables in downtown Washington.

It is often used in Mexican cuisine for tamales, the fish or meat wrapped in fragrant leaves for cooking, and as an essential ingredient in Mole Verde, the green sauce originated in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. It is also chopped to flavor soups and eggs. In Central Mexico, it is used to flavor chocolate drinks. In southeastern Mexico, a green liquor called Verdín is made from hoja santa. American cheesemaker Paula Lambert created “Hoja santa cheese”, the goat’s milk cheese wrapped with the hoja santa leaves and impregnated with its flavor. While typically used fresh, it is also used in dried form, although drying removes much of the flavor and makes the leaf too brittle to be used as a wrapper.

Like its more famous Old World cousin, black pepper (Piper nigrum), hoja santa is used as a seasoning. In this case, it is the leaves and not the ‘peppercorns’ that flavor foods. The Maya and Aztec made tamales—fish or meat wrapped in fragrant leaves for cooking. And the ancients used many types of leaves, not just corn husks around corn meal dough and seasoned meat. Many of these ancient tamal entrees persist; pescado (fish) en hoja santa is still fine dining especially near the Gulf coast in Veracruz.

The essential oils in the leaf are rich in safrole, a substance also found in sassafras, which has been shown to be carcinogenic in animals. In 1960, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned sassafras bark along with sassafras oil and safrole as flavoring agents because of their carcinogenic properties and the Council of Europe imposed the same ban in 1974, so the safety of flavoring food with hoja santa remains questionable.


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