Inula helenium: how this panacea of the ancient world could help with COVID
Updated: Mar 7
Known as elecampane in English, and simply called "inula" by herbalists, the root of inula helenium has been used to treat persistent coughs and chest infections — including tuberculosis — for centuries. But that's not its only relevance for our own historical moment. It was also prized by the ancients as a mood tonic: Pliny the Elder recommended chewing it to ward off depression. It's also worth noting that Livia Drusilla, wife of Augustus Cesar, was said to have eaten inula every day, and lived to the age of 88.
While you could follow Livia and Pliny's example and eat the root, it's more common these days to make a tea or decoction with it. The "inula" of its name is related to the prebiotic fibre known as inulin, which promotes good digestion.
Inula is a fragrant herb, so much so that it was used in earlier times as a strewing herb, as incense and even as an aftershave lotion. In Europe the root was eaten candied until fairly recently, and it remains an ingredient in some digestive bitters.
In my own experience, inula is similar to other roots in helping to ground the physical body, as well as clear and move stagnant energy. The sunniness of her flowers indicates warming and brightening capacities in the whole solar plexus area: not just in the lungs but also to loosen any constriction that might be around the heart. I feel there is something about the resinous fragrance that is good for mental tension or cramped thinking — like a mentholated cough drop for the mind.
Inula has become one of my favourite herbs to use in teas and tinctures. I hope to try growing some this spring in my garden.