This section is from the book "Meals Medicinal", by W. T. Fernie. Also available from Amazon: Meals Medicinal: With "Herbal Simples" Curative Foods From the Cook in Place of Drugs From the Chemist.
From the times of the, Middle Ages, a candied sweetmeat has been employed in Great Britain, as made from our English familiar plant, Elecampane (Helenium inula), growing tall, stout, and downy, of the Composite order, from three to five feet high, with broad leaves, and bright yellow flowers. "One of the plants,' 'says William Coles (1656), "whereof England may boast as much as any, for there grows none better in the world than in England, let apothecaries and druggists say what they will." An old Latin distich thus celebrates its virtues: Enula Campana reddit prcecordia sana: "Elecampane will the spirits sustain." Some fifty years ago its candy was sold commonly in London, made into flat round cakes, composed largely of the medicated sugar, and coloured with cochineal. A piece was eaten each night, and morning, for asthmatical complaints; and it was customary when journeying by river to suck a bit of the same, or of the Elecampane root, against poisonous exhalations, and bad air.
The candy may still be had from our leading confectioners, but scarcely containing, it is to be supposed, any more of the Elecampane than their barley sugar does now-a-days of barley. Chemically the roots, from which this candy is made, include a camphoraceous principle, helenin, and a starch known as "inulin," 'most sparingly soluble, together with a volatile oil, another resin, albumin, and acetic acid. The inulin is a powerful antiseptic to arrest putrefaction; the helenin relieves chronic bronchitis, and soreness inside the nostrils. Moreover, this latter principle of Elecampane is said to be peculiarly destructive to the bacillus connected with consumptive disease of the lungs. In classic times the poet Horace told how Fundanius made a delicate sauce in which the bitter inula was boiled, and how the Roman stomach when surfeited by an excess of rich viands pined for plain turnips, and the appetising Enulas acidas from frugal Campania:-
"Quum rapula plenus Atque acidas mavult inulas".
Prior to the Norman Conquest, and during the Middle Ages, the root of Elecampane was much employed medicinally in Great Britain. Though now found but infrequently as of local growth in our copses, and meadows, yet it is cultivated in private herb gardens as a culinary, and medicinal plant.