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Elecampane { Past and present medicinal uses}

Updated on October 1, 2015

Elecampane Inula helenium

Uploaded by user Llez
Uploaded by user Llez | Source


Elecampane, belongs to the order of plants known as the Asterales and placed in the family Asteraceae { formerly the Compositae} and the Tribe Inuleae. It is given the genus name of Inula and the specific name of helenium. Elecampane derives from the Greek helenium+ campanus of the fields. helenium is thought to allude to Helen of Troy the wife of the Greek King Menelaus,she supposedly carried a bunch of these flowers when Paris caught her and took her to Troy.

The Asteraceae family is a huge family of flowering plants including many garden favourites and familiar wild flowers,they are often referred to as being members of the daisy family.

Alice Lounsberry 1872-1949, in her book ' A guide to Wild Flowers' {USA}, says of Elecampane-" There are flowers that speak to us of the sunshine, and there are those that cast about in shadow. Happily we associate the elecampane with the sun because its face is so bright and golden. It has also done many good deals to man and beast during its long residence on the globe. In veterinary practice it is used in epidemics;and when made into a tea it is excellent for coughs, or to strengthen the human system. In fact, it is one of the oldest known of the medicinal plants"

The roots of this species were once bruised and macerated in wine with'balls' of ashes and whortle berries, which was utilized to dye 'stuffs' of a blue colour.

Here we look at this species and its past and present uses, which include notes and observations from past herbalists, physicians and other eminent writers. As always we start with a description of the subject under review.

Components of Inula helenium

Billeder of Norden's Flora {BHL}
Billeder of Norden's Flora {BHL}


This is a tall ,handsome plant attaining the height of four to five feet or more. The erect stem is very stout and deeply furrowed and near the summit branched. The whole plant is downy.The leaves are radical and there are stem foliage. the radical leaves are in the form of a rosette,large and pointed,from one to one and a half feet long {30-45 cm},and four inches broad in the middle {10 cm }. On the under surface the leaf is velvety.The margins are toothed and they are borne on long stalks. In general appearance they are said to resemble those of the Mullein.

The stem foliage is shorter and relatively broader and clasp the stem. The stem arises from the rootstock which is perennial,large succulent and spindle shaped. It tends to branch,Externally it is a brownish colour,aromatic with large fleshy roots it is a whitish colour within.

The flowers are bright yellow,produced in large terminal heads three to four inches in diameter {up to 10 cm } which are borne on long stalks. The broad bracts beneath the head are velvety. The flower is composed of disc florets which form the center and expanding ray florets. They bloom from June to August.

After the flowers have fallen these bracts spread horizontally and are crowned by a ring of pale reddish hairs which botanist refer to as the pappus. This is common with many species of this family

Seed heads of Inula helenium


Historical medicinal uses and observations.

The fresh root was said to exhale a strong ,penetrating odour. When dried the smell is aromatic ,yet slightly fetid, and on chewing it the taste was said to be at first disagreeable and glutinous,then bitterish,hot and pungent. Both alcohol and and water were used to extract its virtues, the former seems to have been the most complete way.

A kind of greyish odorous faecula was discovered by M. Rose { Annales de Chimie.tom.LXXVi page 98} and named by Dr.Thomson, Inulin. Inulin was extracted by boiling the root in four times its weight of water and leaving the liquid to rest.

The root of Elecampane was much esteemed by our ancestors as a valuable drug. Hippocrates and Galen made favourable mention of it. Dioscorides speaks of its efficacy in sciatic affections. It has been strongly recommended in pectoral affections { Dehne in Crell's Chem. Journ }, particularly in coughs and asthma.besides promoting expectoration, it was also esteemed as a sudorific {causes sweating} and as a diuretic. Its diuretic properties,however, Cullen { Mat.Med. vol ii page 459 }, considered as 'triffling', and could not discover that it possessed any expectorant virtues.

It was considered a good remedy in complaints of the stomach arising from acidity, hence its value in dyspepsia and those colics so frequently originating in the acidity of that organ it was found to be a powerful remedy in the kind of imperfect paralysis to which the ancients gave the name of Paraesis, in which the power of the muscles of the limbs is greatly weakened, but not destroyed. It was also, it would seem, used in the treatment of paralysis which was said to be the result of colica Pictorum or Painter's colic.

This complaint was very frequent in Austria and Moravia, where they attributed to the acid wines of those countries, though more probably it was owing to the leaden cisterns and vessels in which it was occasionally kept. The Elecampane was considered by the inhabitants as a specific for those paralytic affections.

Ettmuller strenuously commended it s use in all scorbutic {scurvy} afflictions, and in gout and rheaumatism where diathesis prevails. Hermann { Herm.Cynos. Mat. Med. tom i page 47 } recommended it against venereal diseases. { Murray. Mat. Med. tom i page 230 } employed the use of it against Chlorosis which was formerly common in adolescent girls,characterized by a pale greenish yellow skin weakness and palpations caused by the lack of iron in the body.

As to its remedial affects on the plague it seems opinion was deeply divided. Diemerbroeck { Diem de Peste page 157 } and Ray { Ray.Hist. Plant.tom i page 47 } advocated it, while others had no faith in its powers. Externally Elecampnae, either in the form of an ointment, or in a decoction, was employed for the itch, but sulphur and other mineral products were said to be more dependable.

The British Pharmacopoeias did not direct any simple formula, but merely introduced Elecampane as an ingredient in a confection of pepper {Confectio Piperis Nigra-Pharm.Lond.}.However, on the continent of Europe they were somewhat profuse in their recipes. I came across some archaic recipes which were much in use in days gone by.

Decoction of Elecampane---{ decoctum heleni-Pharm.Batav,ed,Niermann} ---Take of the root of Elecampane,half an ounce; Spring water--sufficient to afford after ebullition six ounces of fluid. The dose was recommended at one to two table spoonfuls every two hours.

Tincture of Elecampane--{Tinctura helenii-Pharm,Austriaca,1821} --Take of the root of Elecampane one part.of Alcohol six parts. After digesting the root in a gentle heat, filter.The resulting liquid was regarded as being Carminative, exciting and diaphoretic. The dose , ten drops to a drachm.

Syrup of Elecampane --{ Surupus Emulae-Parm. Wirlem} depurated juice of the root, one pound and a half, white sugar two pounds and a half. Dissolve the sugar in the juice and strain.

The inulin found in Elecampane is also found to exist in the tubers of other plants such as Jerusulaem artichoke, Pellitory of the wall and Angelica. The Romans used the roots as an edible vegetable and the Monks prized them highly. Elecampane lozenges were sold by druggist in England and in Europe various preparations of its juices formed several popular Carminatives.

Millspaugh, in his book AmericanMedicinal Plants 1887 page 81-2, staes " It grows here spontaneously in the Northern States, in damp places along roadsides, the borders of gardens and about the old ruins of buildings. Inula is simply mentioned in the US Ph. The Ecletic offinal.Inula is held to be a stimulant to the secretory organs , but the effects produced according to Fischer { Encyc.Mat.Med. Vol V page 113} in those that partook of the juice of the root, show the opposite effect! His scheme of prominent symptoms is a s follows Confusion of the head,with nausea and vertigo,on stooping ;burning of the eyeballs,dryness of the mouth and throat, increased peristalic of the intestines,with griping or tensive pain,sever pain in the lumber regions,with sleeplessness and coldness."

Millspaugh went on the assert ,the American native Indians used the roots medicinally in infusions and decoctions to treat lung disorders.

The above is for historical information only and not meant as a guide for self medication.

Yellow Flowers of Elecampane

Taken in Prague
Taken in Prague | Source

Archaic conservation concerns for over use of medicinal plants

Dr.A.Griesbach,of Gottingen, stated " Many plants have been extirpated by use;this is now gradually taking place with Gentiana lutea, in the Alps and Inula helenium, in the north of Sweden. the contact of man with nature exerts no less a modifying influence on the vegetable kingdom than upon the animal creation. The original vegetation of a country must in general, therefore, be regarded as more rich in species;and in this manner ,in Sweden, and Germany, even under our own eyes, the localities of rare plants are disappearing one after another"

Modern day uses of Elecampane

There are some adverse reaction reports that Elecampane may cause hypersensitivity in patients who have existing allergy to the Asteraceae family. In such cases they may irritate the mucous membranes.There are also reports of contact dermatitis in a few cases. It is also thought that in large doses it may cause gastrointestinal discomfort, vomiting,diarrhea, cramps and symptoms of paralysis.

It seems as regards its use against ailments of the respiratory system,gastrointestinal tract and kidneys,there is little clinical evidence to support its supposed efficacy.

That said, it is still used in herbal cough medicines,often mixed with other herbs such as liquorice root and White Horehound. It is recommended that if you are using the root for its inulin content it is best harvested in autumn and take the roots of a 2-3 year old plant, which contain the highest amounts of the substance . Inulin soothes the digestive tract and is useful in treating coughs. It is also used against nervous coughs because of its relaxant properties.

It must be noted that if you are trying Elecampane, or any other herb for the first time try just a little to test your body tolerance. Some people may have adverse effects while others are seemingly immune to any such problems and take Elecampane with beneficial results. Elecampane is sold as ready made commercial products, which may be bought at drug stores and health shops.

Inula hookeri is a popular garden variety

Originally posted on Flickr
Originally posted on Flickr | Source

Elecampane and the Garden

The plant grows in full sun or partial shade. In America Elecampane grows in Zone 4-9 and is often found near woods. It can stand dry soil, but also thrives in damper ground. It is also a show piece as an ornamental plant {or in the back of a herb border}.It is one of those plants that are hard to kill.

In the UK they are a genus of summer flowering plants, that are clump forming,sometimes rhizomatous perennials that are fully hardy. They need sun but will grow in any type of well drained soil. They can be grown from seed and established plants can be propagated by division in the spring of autumn.

Species such as Inula acaulis,can stand severe cold,and is grown for its flower colour and their daisy like flowers with slender petals.They are tuft forming but only grow to the height of 2-4 inches {5-10 cm} with a spread of 6 inches {15 cm}. As its Latin name suggests they are almost stemless.

Another popular species is Inula hookeri a clump forming perennial with lance shaped,hairy leaves. They produce a mass of slightly scented daisy-like greenish yellow flower heads during the summer. up to 30 inches+ {75 cm} with a spread of 18 inches {45

Inula ensifolia a garden species



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    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 3 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      aviannovice ,

      Hi Deb, the sun and these plants were made for each other. Thank you for your kind comments. Best wishes to you.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 3 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      These are beautiful plants that do remind one of the sun. Wonderful work.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 3 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      VioletteRose, Thank you for your visit and taking the time to comment. I also like reading your hubs about the flora { and their uses} which are native to your country. Best wishes to you.

    • VioletteRose profile image

      VioletteRose 3 years ago from Chicago

      The flowers look so beautiful! Thanks for sharing so much details, I love reading about plants.

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 3 years ago from Lancashire north west England

      jill of alltrades,

      Good to see you here my friend, and thank you for your kind comments and vote up,interesting and useful all of which a much appreciated. Best wishes to you.

    • jill of alltrades profile image

      jill of alltrades 3 years ago from Philippines

      What an interesting and informative hub my friend! This is my first time to encounter read about the uses of Elecampane. It looks like a miniature sunflower. Voted up, interesting, and useful of course!

    • D.A.L. profile image

      Dave 3 years ago from Lancashire north west England


      hello Devika, glad to have introduced this species to you.It is a pleasure to share. Thank you too, for the vote up,interesting and useful. I always appreciate your comments and loyalty. Best wishes to you.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      I have not heard of Elecampane and any of its uses you have accomplished an informative and an educational hub on such lovely plant. It has beautiful yellow flowers and many helpful facts. Your work is always interesting and a good learning experience for me. Voted up. useful and interesting.