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Elecampane (Inula helenium) Monograph

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Inula helenium

Latin Name: Inula helenium

Common name(s): Elecampane, Elf Dock, Horseheal, Velvet Dock

Family: Asteraceae

Botany: Elecampane grows up to 4 to 5 feet tall, and blooms from June to August. It has bright yellow flowers, and fairly large, downy leaves.

Habitat: Elecampane is an adaptable perennial, but prefers more moist soil, and shadier locations.

History/Folklore: The name helenium from Helen of Troy. Elecampane is said to have sprung up from the place where her tears fell. The Romans and Anglo-Saxons used Elecampane for both food and medicine. The Romans in particular used the root to treat indigestion. In a few counties in Ireland, it was also used for as a specific for toothaches and healing wounds.

Late 19th century Eclectic physicians Harvey Felter and John Uri Lloyd, writing in King’s Dispensatory, offered the following: “Elecampane is an aromatic stimulant and tonic, and is much used in chronic pulmonary affections and weakness of the digestive organs. Night-sweats are relieved by Inula, as are some cases of humid asthma, and, by its tonic properties, it tends to sustain the strength of the patient in chronic disorders of the respiratory tract. Inula is somewhat slow in action, and should be used for quite a time to get its full action. That it is an important remedy in irritation of the trachea and bronchiae is now well established. It is adapted to cases with free and abundant expectoration, teasing cough, and pain beneath the sternum, conditions frequent in the grippe, and the severer forms of colds.”

Parts used: Root, flowers occasionally

Energetics: warming

Constituents: Inulin, saponins, volatile oils

Actions: Stimulant, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, emmenagogue, tonic, alterative, astringent

Medicinal use: Elecampane’s respiratory action targets symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing in the lungs. It has been used to address coughs and colds, asthma, whooping cough, and even pulmonary tuberculosis. As a digestive remedy, Elecampane promotes appetite and wards off upset stomach. As a tonic herb, Elecampane strengthens both the lungs and the digestive system, and balances metabolism by assisting the pancreas with the large amounts of inulin in its root. Topically, it is somewhat rubefacient, and has been used in the treatment of sciatica, and other conditions involving nerve damage.

Common preparation: tea, tincture (Simple tea preparation: 1 tablespoon of dried root in 2 cups of water. Cook on low simmer for 20-30 minutes.)

Note about taste: Elecampane is a warming, bitter herb. For those who dislike bitter flavors, adding a small amount of honey will be helpful. Honey also can reduce bronchial inflammation and help break up mucus.

Contraindications: May cause reactions like rashes in those with hypersensitivity to plants in the Asteraceae family.

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