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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Elecampane and pippin-pap

Public domain, Wikipedia.
Doman Hering: Judgement of Paris, c. 1529,
Solnhofen limestone, 22 x 19.7 cm;
Paris (the knight) is a portrait of Otto Henry, Elector Palatine,
Hera a portrait of his wife Susanna. Bode-Museum Berlin.

Well, it's not the admirable and most famous Snail Water, but it might come in handy on these cold winter nights...
An approved Conserve for a Cough or Consumption of the Lungs.

Take a pound of Elecampane Roots, draw out the pith, and boil them in
two waters till they be soft, when it is cold put to it the like
quantity of the pap of roasted Pippins, and three times their weight of
brown sugar-candy beaten to powder, stamp these in a Mortar to a
Conserve, whereof take every morning fasting as much as a Walnut for a
week or fortnight together, and afterwards but three times a week.
I wonder if that is the size of a walnut meat, an unopened walnut in its shell, or a great big green unhulled walnut. Whatever it is, the receipt comes from the marvelous A Queens Delight: The Art of Preserving, Conserving and Candying. As also, A right Knowledge of making Perfumes, and Distilling the most Excellent Waters. 
London: Printed by E. Tyler and R. Holt, for Nath.
Brooke, at the Angel in Corn-Hill, near the
Royal Exchange. 1671.
Elecampane? Inula helenium. A.k.a. elfdock and helenio. Horse-heal. It's in the same family as sunflowers, Asteraceae. Helenium refers to that most famous Helen, Helen of Troy. I've seen a number of accounts of her relation to elecampane. Her tears turned to Elecampane, according to one version. Not surprising, I suppose, as desirable young men and women themselves seem to have had a fatal tendency to turn into flowers or trees in the ancient world. But elecampane is enormous. She must have been surrounded by a whole jungle of the stuff; surely she could have wept, lost herself in eight-foot stems, and slipped away, saving a world of trouble. I have also read that she simply carried elecampane with her when she was abducted from Sparta by Paris. Why? Because we women, when abducted, like to carry gigantic flowers? I find such a bouquet rather unlikely, though in the legends of the ancient world, women appear to be vulnerable to abduction when picking flowers. It is a wonder any young women were ever tempted into a field, however pleasantly diapered with flowers.

According to (possibly innumerable and sometimes witchy) herbal web sites, all copying one another, elecampane is beloved of the fey. Then I expect elecampane stalks are fairy skyscrapers. Perhaps the fey linkage is why it's claimed that Celtic peoples saw elecampane as a sacred flower? If you are a lovelorn, superstitious sort and have some spare vervain and mistletoe lying about and some time to waste, evidently you may grind them up and mix them with elecampane flowers for a love potion. And if you have a bad scrying habit, well, elecampane flowers are said to be useful by the sort of people who dabble in witchery--that is, by witches, who suggest that you throw a few on the grill to increase your mystic powers. All this business with love and bewitchment and foretelling the future takes us straight back to Paris and Helen, and to Aphrodite promising Paris that she will make sure he steals away with Helen, wife of Menelaus, if only he declares her the most beautiful. Never mind that she fails to mention the little fleabite of the Trojan War.


  1. And, so, we have now a cultural tradition of giving flowers to women? Hmmmm.

  2. "beloved of the fey". Yes, that's the worst bit.

    Considering feyness is not infectious, corrupt, actively antagonistic or aiming for high office, it's pretty darned hard to get along with. There's feyness in Peter Pan and that's why I've never re-read it since age seven.

    In corporeal terms it has longish insubstantial hair the colour of dust. The lips are perpetually timid and will never be kissed. Musically it is linked to the recorder, an instrument easily overblown and the quintessence of non-assertion. Fey drinks spritzer but only when all the bubbles have dissipated. The biggest concentration is found in Bloomsbury.

    1. Researching plants used to be so straightforward. The botanical facts plus old folklore... The web turns up strange witcheries and faux beliefs, all mixed with what once was.

      I am glad to find that you were already quite yourself by age 7! And that have maintained the same is a wonder! I like your very English dissection of what is fey.

  3. When I was writing "Hannah's Garden" I spent a good deal of time researching wild flowers (and especially the endangered varities) of Northern Wisconsin. It was wonderful then to travel north and see them clustered on the side of the roads, or hidden in the pines. I loved their multiple names, some that expressed their personalities-- Jimson Weed was also "Touch-Me-Not" as the seed pods would explode on contact with anything, and Saponaria Officinalis was bouncing betty, dog's cloves, and lady-by-the-gate to name a few. These humble wild plants have the same sort of naming properties of Spanish Golden Age queens who list between their first and last names their entire lineage.

    1. Oh, I've read that one--yes, I can imagine that you were wrapped up in names. My mother was always the woman who knew the names of all the wildflowers, and if she didn't know, she took a sample to her favorite botany professor. I still know the names of a lot of flowers, particularly in the Southern Appalachians, but many have sifted out of my head.

      I have a little North Carolina wildflower garden in Yankeedom with plants from my mother, who often raises wildflowers from seed or propagates by division. Uvularia and jack-in-the-pulpit and ginger and celandine and butterfly weed and so on.


Alas, I must once again remind large numbers of Chinese salesmen and other worldwide peddlers that if they fall into the Gulf of Spam, they will be eaten by roaming Balrogs. The rest of you, lovers of grace, poetry, and horses (nod to Yeats--you do not have to be fond of horses), feel free to leave fascinating missives and curious arguments.