Saturday, November 14, 2009

To those who wait...

... answers come.

Last summer I came across these wildflowers and didn't know what they were. I snapped their picture in hopes of identifying the plant. I searched on the Internet, but that's a difficult way to identify a plant when all you know about it is that it's a tall, yellow wildflower. I didn't have any luck finding my particular flower.

But I didn't forget about it.

Recently I checked out a Peterson Field Guide from the library for Eastern/Central [United States] Medicinal Plants and Herbs. And what did I come across while perusing its pages, but this exact flower. The field guide identified it as elecampane, or Inula helenium.

I use elecampane root in teas that I make to treat the symptoms of cold and flu. Until now I have mail-ordered it from an organic source. Late last winter I started some plants from seed and in the spring I planted them in my garden, but the root is supposed to be harvested from second-year plants. The first year plants look nothing like the picture. They stay low to the ground, and the leaves spring out sort-of like a rosette. That's why I had no idea that the tall beauty was the same plant, only in its more mature, flowering stage.

So today, while walking the dog, I went back to where I had spied these flowers in late summer. I didn't know if I'd find them because by now the plants have died back, leaving only the root alive to send another plant shooting skyward again next year.

But I did find them, the withered, dried remains of stalks, leaves and flowerheads, waiting to be flattened by winter winds and heavy snowfall so that they can reconnect with the soil and become a part of it again.

The only way to be sure these plants were indeed elecampane was to dig up a root and smell. Elecampane root has a very distinctive smell. I took the dog back home, put him in the back yard with his little cup of doggie ice cream, got my shovel, and returned to the withered plants.

I chose one, dug, pulled, and was rewarded with a nice, fat root. I brushed the earth off of it as best I could, scratched at a section with my fingernail, and smelled. Elecampane! Ha!

Boy did I feel just like a wise woman of old, able to identify and find the plants I need in the wild.

I've had a lot of fun over the past couple of years growing more serious about learning the wise woman's ways. Soon I hope put up a post showing the things I've been able to find, or grow, and put away for later use, and the things I've made.

I absolutely love knowing about the things that grow around me and how to use them, gratefully, for my own benefit, or the benefit of others.


adrienne said...

I think it's so satisfying to ID things - birds, bugs, plants...

It's even better that you have a use for the root! Does it taste good?

ICQB said...

Hi adrienne!

I wouldn't say that elecampane root tastes good. I would say that it has both a distinctive smell and taste - on the strong side.

Anonymous said...

Hahaha. Especially when it's cooked in the oven and burnt!

ICQB said...

Hi Anonymous!

I think it was an anonymous person who turned the oven on, even with the sticky notes all over that said, "Do Not Use, No!"

: )

Anonymous said...

Maybe contractions work better. (I really just had to comment because the verification word, "coffo", was too good to pass up.)

Anonymous said...

These words are so much fun! I've also gotten "inceskil" and "tedupou."

Keats The Sunshine Girl said...

Patience is a virtue and you certainly have it. It's like detective work, identifying things - hurray when it's done!

ICQB said...

Hi Sunshine Girl!

It is like detective work! I never thought of it that way, but if you keep all of your what if's and I wonder's tucked away and don't forget them, often the answers show themselves to you later on.

And it does indeed take patience.