Thursday, September 27, 2012

Elecampane and Eletelephony

This is the first in an encore series on herbs that first appeared during the summer.

Through the years I have planted small herb gardens 
at the places I have lived. 
Sometimes just a strawberry pot full,
sometimes a whole garden of herbs.
But always some.
And currently, despite the lack of full sun in all my potential planting areas,
I have a few herbs slowly growing here in the Shire. 

But I persist, having always loved the versatility and history of herbs.
Recently I have discovered a couple of old plant books
whose authors had the privilege of studying manuscripts
of some of the best known early English herbals;
for example, Leech's, Gerard's, and Parkinson's, among others.

So I decided to write an 8-day series on herbs, starting today with elecampane.
But my research immediately digressed--not a bad thing in some cultures
because digression in writing is expected and respected,
just not here in the U.S.
Even so, I decided to cover both the herb elecampane
and the poem that comes into my head 
every time I see the herb's name in print:
"Eletelephony" by Laura E. Richards.

We'll start with elecampane.
According to the book "Flowers and their Histories"
by Alice M. Coats,
elecampane, inula helenium, is a tall yellow-blooming plant
that has become naturalized in Europe and America.
Coats says that the herb is called inula helenium
because Helen of Troy was said to have been holding
a bouquet of elecampane
when "Paris carried her away to Phrygia."
Coats also explains that elecampane
was favored by Empress Julia Augusta.
 "A Modern Herbal" by Margaret Grieve,
published by,
attributes this information to Pliny, who wrote
 that the Empress chewed elecampane root daily 
because it was thought to be help "digestion and cause mirth."
I don't have any elecampane growing and have never seen it here.
But for photos of elecampane, search "elecampane"
in Google Images. They have some good ones.
For me, the alliterative effect of the first two syllables
 in elecampane and "eletelephony"
cause these two words to be immediately associated.

So to start, a brief biographical sketch
of Pulitzer Prize winner Laura E. Richards,
from this web site:
According to C. D. Merriman,
Richards was the daughter of Samuel Gridley Howe
who co-founded the school for the deaf
where Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller were students.
And Richards' mother was Julia Ward Howe,
who wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic.
Richards wrote "Eletelephony" as part of her 1918 book Tirra Lirra.
Here it is:

Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant --
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone --
(Dear me! I am not certain quite
That even now I've got it right.)

Howe'er it was, he got his trunk
Entangled in the telephunk;
The more he tried to get it free,
The louder buzzed the telephee --
(I fear I'd better drop the song
Of elephop and telephong!)

It's a fun poem, and like elecampane,
guaranteed to bring mirth.

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