Friday, June 18, 2010

Yarrow, Elecampane, and the Iliad

There are two plants in my garden right now with connections to characters in Homer's Iliad. They are yarrow and elecampane.

Elecampane, or Inula helenium, is said to have been brought to Troy by Helen. I don't know why Helen brought it with her. Perhaps it was because of its sunny, yellow flowers. Or maybe Helen suffered from asthma, or from frequent upper respiratory infections. A tea made with elecampane will help relieve both of those things. Today, there are more effective ways to treat asthma, but I include elecampane in teas to help relieve colds and flu and it works extremely well. You can see a picture of it in my garden here, and blooming in the wild here. It won't bloom until round about late July/August.

Yarrow, or Achillea millefolium, is said to have been used by Achilles to treat the wounds of his men. It's helpful in stopping blood flow from wounds, and is antiseptic as well. It is also an antispasmodic so I not only include it in healing salves that I make, but in salves to rub on tight muscles. Even my husband, the habitual skeptic, has been converted to using my yarrow and goldenrod salve when he has a stiff neck. He even asks for it. That alone tells me that it works.

I gather yarrow from the wild and I've raised it from seed. It's a nice, white flower with feathery greens, but there are many cultivars around that have rich colors. The original white, however, is the best medicinally.

But you can see where the colors come from. In any typical grouping of white yarrow:

There will be the odd head with a touch of color:

By selectively breeding those with touches of color, eventually you will end up with something like this:

It's a beautiful accent in the garden, but I don't use it in my medicinal preparations.


adrienne said...

I've only seen yellow yarrow (another tongue twister!)...we used it a lot in floral arrangements. I didn't know about the theraputic values, though. Love the bright pink!

ICQB said...

Hi adrienne!

Have you been a floral designer? My mom owned a flower shop, so when you said 'we used it a lot in floral arrangements' I automatically though flower shop.

adrienne said...

How cool that your mom had a flower shop - is that where you got your passion for flowers?

Yep, I worked as a floral designer in between graphic design jobs. The last place I worked was a special event company - fun but stressful work.

ICQB said...

Hi adrienne!

Fun but stressful work sums up all of the holidays, prom season, weddings...

It must have been like that all the time working for a special event company - everything must have been a big to-do!

And I don't know where my passion for flowers came from. My mom stuck me with bookkeeping after seeing the results of my first few attempts at flower arranging :-)

Catofstripes said...

oooh, I love elecampane, and yarrow!

The yarrow here comes in mostly white but even in the wild population there are pink tinged plants. As you probably know it makes a pleasant tea.

ICQB said...

Hi Catofstripes!

I use both yarrow and elecampane in teas. I like the wild yarrow best.