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Inula helenium- Elecampane

Family: Compositae or Asteraceae

Other Names: Yellow Starwort, Elfdock, Elfwort, Horse-elder, Horseheal, Scabwort, Elecampagne, Velvet Dock, Aster helenium, Aster officinalis, Corvisartia helenium, Helenium grandiflorum

hazardsmallAllergic reactions. Potential to interfere with the treatment of diabetes mellitus and high blood pressure. Avoid if history of allergy. Avoid when pregnant!

Elecampane has a long history of use as a medicinal herb. A gently warming and tonic herb, it is especially effective in treating coughs, consumption, bronchitis and many other complaints of the chest as well as disorders of the digestive system. A very safe herb to use, it is suitable for the old and the young and especially useful when the patient is debilitated. It cleanses toxins from the body, stimulating the immune and digestive systems and treating bacterial and fungal infections. The root is alterative, anthelmintic, antiseptic, astringent, bitter, cholagogue, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, mildly expectorant, gently stimulant, stomachic, tonic. It is best harvested in the autumn from plants that are two years old, and it can be dried for later use. The roots should be at least 3 years old according to another report. This remedy should not be prescribed for pregnant women. An extract of the plant is a powerful antiseptic and bactericide, particularly effective against the organism that causes TB. The root contains alantolactone, which is strongly anthelmintic. In a 1:1000 dilution it kills the parasitic worm Ascaris in 16 hours. Alantolactone has an anti-inflammatory action, it also reduces mucous secretions and stimulates the immune system. The plant is sometimes recommended as an external wash for skin inflammations and varicose ulcers, but has been known to cause allergic reactions.

Inula_heleniumDescription of Elecampane:

Inula helenium is a PERENNIAL growing to 1.5 m (5ft) by 1 m (3ft 3in).
It is hardy to zone 5. It is in flower from Jul to August, and the seeds ripen from Aug to September. The flowers are hermaphrodite (have both male and female organs) and are pollinated by Bees, lepidoptera, self.The plant is self-fertile.

Suitable for: light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils. Suitable pH: acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils. It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland) or no shade. It prefers moist soil. The plant can tolerates strong winds but not maritime exposure.

Cultivation of Elecampane;

An easily grown plant, it grows well in moist shady positions in ordinary garden soil, though it grows best in a good loamy soil. Succeeds in an ordinary garden soil in a sunny position. Plants are also tolerant of considerable neglect, succeeding on our Cornwall trial ground even when left unweeded for four years.  When first dug up, the roots smell like ripe bananas, but as they dry they take on the scent of violets.

Propagation of Elecampane:

Seed – sow in spring or autumn in a cold frame. When they are large enough to handle, prick the seedlings out into individual pots and plant them out in the summer. If you have sufficient seed, it could be worthwhile trying an outdoor sowing in situ in the spring. Division in spring or autumn. Fairly small pieces of root can be used, so long as each piece has a growth bud on it. Very easy, larger clumps can be replanted direct into their permanent positions, though it is best to pot up smaller clumps and grow them on in a cold frame until they are rooting well. Plant them out in the spring. Root cuttings in winter. Cut sections of root about 5cm long, place them in a warm greenhouse over the winter and they should grow away vigorously.

Collection: The rhizome should be unearthed between September and October. The large pieces should be cut before drying in the sun or artificially at a temperature of 50-70 degrees C.

Culinary uses of Elecampane:

Edible Parts: Leaves;  Root.
Edible Uses:

Leaves – cooked. Rather bitter and aromatic[, they were used as a potherb by the ancient Romans but are rarely used at present. Root – candied and eaten as a sweetmeat. It contains up to 44% inulin. Inulin is a starch that cannot be digested by humans. It usually passes straight through the digestive system, though it can ferment and cause wind problems for some people. Inulin can be converted into a sugar that is suitable for diabetics to eat. The Council of Europe list Inula helenium as a natural food flavouring.

inula-helenium_botanicalMedicinal uses of Elecampane:

Actions: Expectorant, anti-tussive, diaphoretic, hepatic, anti-microbial.

Part Used: Rhizome


Elecampane is a specific for irritating bronchial coughs, especially in children. It may be used wherever there is copious catarrh formed e.g. in bronchitis or emphysema. This remedy shows the complex and integrated ways in which herbs work. The mucilage has a relaxing effect accompanied by the stimulation of the essential oils. In this way expectoration is accompanied by a soothing action which in this herb is combined with an anti-bacterial effect. It may be used in asthma and bronchitic asthma. Elecampane has been used in the treatment of tuberculosis. The bitter principle makes it useful also to stimulate digestion and appetite.

Priest & Priest tell us that it is a “gently stimulating tonic expectorant for chronic catarrhal conditions: warming, strengthening and cleansing to pulmonary mucous membranes. Indicated for chronic pectoral states with excessive catarrhal expectoration and/or a tubercular diathesis.” They give the following specific indications: Bronchial and gastriccatarrhchronic bronchitistuberculosis,pneumoconiosissilicosispertussisemphysematous conditions, chronic cough in the elderly.

Ellingwood considered it to specifically “act directly upon the nutritive functions of the body. In general debility from protracted disease or from overwork, or from age, its influence is plainly apparent. It imparts tone to the digestive and respiratory organs and to the urinary tract.” In addition he recommends it for the following patholgies: atonic conditionsnight sweatspulmonary tuberculosisirritating coughcatarrhal discharges.

Kings’ describes it thus: “Elecampane is an aromatic stimulant and tonic and is said to be expectorant, emmenagogue, diuretic, and diaphoretic. It is much used inchronic pulmonary affections, weakness of the digestive organs, hepatic torpor,atonic dyspepsia, with flatus, and internally and externally in tetteritch, and othercutaneous diseases. The alcoholic extract, combined with powdered extract of Liquorice, Benzoic acid, Sanguinaria and morphine, forms a lozenge or pill very valuable in chronic catarrhalbronchial, and all pulmonary irritations. One drop of the oil of Stillingia may be added to eachlozenge for bronchial and laryngeal affections.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. Helenin is accredited with a fatal action upon the tubercle bacillus. 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 la grippe and the severer forms of colds.”


Elecampane combines well with White Horehound, Coltsfoot, Pleurisy Root, Lungwort and Yarrow for respiratory problems.

Preparations & Dosage of Elecampane:

Infusion: pour a cup of cold water onto l teaspoonful of the shredded root. Let stand for 8 to 10 hours. Heat up and take very hot three times a day.

Tincture: take 1-2 ml of the tincture three times a day.

Other uses:

Dye;  Essential oil.

A blue dye is obtained from the bruised and macerated root mixed with ashes and whortleberries (Vaccinium myrtillus). The root yields up to 2% of a camphor-scented essential oil, this is used as a flavouring and medicinal.

Esoteric uses of Elecampane:

Magickally used for banishing and to dispel angry or violent vibrations. Associated with elves. Use in a sachet to attract love or in incense to purify initiates. Strong association with the Elven world and Tarot. Useful for baby blessings. Hide a sachet of elecampane or sprinkle it around doorways to keep out bad vibrations. Ground together with vervain and mistletoe for a powerful love powder.

The Chemistry:


  • Volatile oil, containing sesquiterpene lactones, main lyalamtolactone (= helenalin or elecampane camphor), isoalantolactone and their dihydro derivatives, alantic acid and azulene
  • Inulin;
  • Miscellaneous; sterols, resin etc.