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Herbal Monograph

Herb:  Elecampane Root & Flowers (Inula helenium· Compositae)

Other Names: elfdock, elfwort, horse-elder, horseheal, scabwort, wild sunflower, velvet dock  (2);

In China, I. japonica is used, and known as xuan fu hua.  (15);  Aunee (French)  (57)

Character/Energetics: pungent, bitter, tangy  (2);  

Root–sweet, acrid, bitter, warm  (6);    Flowers– pungent, bitter, warm  (6a);   Also, dry.  (15)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:   lungs, spleen (6,6a);  lungs, stomach, spleen  (14)

Parts used:   root, flower  (6,6a);   roots of second or third-year plants.  (58)

Identification & Harvesting: yellow composite terminal flowers;  perennial, 80-180 cm high;  rhizome is short with compact branches; tuberous, sturdy, 1 cm thick and 50 cm long roots.  Rhizome has a strong odor.  Indigenous to Europe and temperate Asia, introduced to US and China.  (2)

Harvest in Sept. or October.  Dry in the sun or artificially at a temperature of 50-70 C.  (8)

Transverse root section shows numerous dark oil cells;  odor recalls orris root and camphor.  Root resembles belladonna in color and shape;  plant resembles horseradish.  (57)

Stems are erect, branched, softly hairy.  Leaves large and toothed, hairy above and downy below.  Flowers 6-8 cm in diameter.  Grows in fields, open woods, roadsides, but generally uncommon.  (58)

Active Constituents: volatile oils:  alantolactone, isoalantolactone, 11,13-dihydroisoalantolactone, 11,13-dihydroalantolactone;  the mixture of alantolactone derivatives is also known as helenalin or elecampane camphor. Polyynes;  polysaccharides, above all, inulin (fructosan)  (2); essential oil, bitter·principles, inulin, resin   (6,6a);  Inulin 40%, helenin, mucilage, triterpenes, bitter principle. (8); up to 50% inulin  (58)

Actions:  The lactone compounds have an antiphlogistic, antibiotic, antifungal effect.  Stomachic, diuretic, carminative, cholagogue.  (2); Root– chi tonic, carminative, expectorant, diuretic, antiseptic, astringent,  stimulant (6);  Flowers–expectorant, stomachic, antiemetic (6a); cholagogue, diuretic, expectorant, stomachic, astringent, stimulant. (14); promotes sweating  (15); diaphoretic  (57)

Digestive.  Expectorant.  Carminative.  Helps treat and prevent the formation of mucus in the lungs, cures coughs, aids digestion.

Conditions and Uses: Rhizome used to treat bronchitis, whooping cough and bronchial catarrh.  Menstrual complaints.  (2); Root–Elecampane  is used for chronic cold lung conditions with clear expectoration, cough, consumption, bronchitis and asthma. It strengthens digestion and inhibits the formation of mucus from weak digestion. The flowers alone are used to lower the chi and therefore stop coughs. To increase its tonic properties, roast in a wok with honey.  (6); Flowers– Elecampane flowers are used by the Chinese to lower the chi, bring up and dissolve phlegm, stop coughs, wheezing, hiccoughs, nausea and vomiting. Both the flowers and the roots are good for weakness of digestion with damp accumulation (damp spleen), bloating abdomen and gas.   (6a)         

For irritating bronchial coughs, esp in children;  may be used wherever copious catarrh formed, e.g. in bronchitis or emphysema.  A complex operation:  mucilage is relaxing, essential oils are stimulating;  expectoration is accompanied by a soothing action combined with an antibacterial effect.  Asthma, bronchitis asthma, tuberculosis.  The bitterness also stimulates digestion and appetite. (8); 

Asthma — tincture, fluid extract, decoction, syrup.  Bronchitis — tincture, fluid extract, decoction, syrup.  Cough — infusion, decoction, syrup.  Digestive, respiratory, urinary tonic —  tincture, fluid extract, decoction, syrup.  Dyspepsia — tincture, fluid extract, decoction, syrup.  Muscular weakness — fluid extract*, decoction*.  Shortness of breath — fluid extract, infusion, decoction, syrup.  Sluggish liver — decoction*, syrup*.  Tuberculosis — syrup*, decoction*.  Ulcers — infusion, decoction, syrup.

Decoction or tincture is used for worms and as an external wash for skin diseases.

*Usually used in combination with other herbs when treating the indicated problem.  (14)

Combinations: Combines well with white horehound, coltsfoot, pleurisy root and yarrow for respiratory problems.  (8)

Precautions: Severely irritating to mucous membranes;  strongly sensitizing.  Large doses lead to vomiting, diarrhea, spasms and signs of paralysis.  Do not store in plastic containers.  (2)

Tincturing Process: Vita Mix: Speed 5.  Fill (dry) elecampane root to nipples level in VM container.        Process: 120 seconds; powders nicely. 1 lb elecampane root  ideal for tincturing in a 2-qt mason jar. 60 % alcohol.  (1a)                             

Applications: Infusion — steep 1 g. ground herb in boiling water 10-15 min and strain before drinking.  (1 tsp = 4 g.) (2)

Infusion — pour 1 c. cold water over 1 tsp herb, let stand 8-10 hrs;  heat and drink hot 3 x daily.         Tincture — 1-2 ml 3 x daily.  (8)

Infusion — steep 15-30 min, 1-2 c. daily, hot or cold.

Decoction — simmer 15-30 min, 1 tbsp as needed or 1-2 c. daily

Tincture — 30-60 drops (1/2 to 1 tsp) 1 or 2 x daily

Fluid extract — 1/2 to 1 tsp 1,2 x daily

Powder — 3-10 #0 capsules (20-60 grains), 1-2 x daily, avg dose 30 grains   (14)

    ELECAMPANE ROOT & FLOWERS (Inula helenium· Compositae)

Divination: Knight of Pentacles:  Elecampane

Divinatory meanings:  Thoughts about business and finances, schemes, securities, savings, and so forth.  Service, loyalty, steadfastness.  A good working partner, though not very  inspiring.

Reverse meanings:  Aimless and worthless pursuits with no gain in sight.  Squandering money.  Spendthrift.  Placidity.  Stagnation.  Inertia.(52)

Dosage: Drink 1 c. infusion 3,4 x daily as an expectorant;  may be sweetened with honey.  (2)

Root–3‑9 gms.  (6);  Flowers–standard infusion or 3‑9 gms.; tincture, 10‑30 drops    (6a)

General Notes: “Inula campana reddit praecordia sana (elecampane will the spirits sustain).” — traditional Latin saying.  (15) 

Extract is used in numerous pharmaceutical preparations:  gastrointestinal remedies, alterants, gout remedies, diuretics, expectorants.  (2)

One of the most important herbs to the Greeks and Romans;  regarded as almost a cure-all for diverse ailments as dropsy and sciatica.  Anglo-Saxons used the herb as a tonic, for leprosy.  Inulin has been used as a sugar substitute in diabetes.  (15)

Essential oil distilled from fresh roots is used as an insecticide and anthelmintic in some countries.  (58)



(1a)Cayuga Botanicals “Elecampane Root ” Tincture file

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 921-913

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 298   (Re: root)

(6a) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pg. 383, (Re: root and flowers)

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 198

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, p. 115

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, p. 70

(52) The Herbal Tarot Deck (Created by Michael Tierra and Designed by Candis Cantin), pgs. 32-33

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., pgs. 126-28

(58) Illustrated Encyclopedia of Herbs by Jiri Stodola & Jan Volak (Edited by Sarah Bunney), p. 123


PHOTO: Wikipedia

The plant’s specific name, helenium, derives from Helen of Troy; elecampane is said to have sprung up from where her tears fell. It was sacred to the ancient Celts, and once had the name “elfwort”. The plant traditionally was held to be associated with the elves and fairy folk.