Herb: Elecampane

Latin name: Inula helenium

Family: Compositae

Medicinal use of Elecampane:

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.

Description of the plant:


150 cm
(5 feet)

July to


Habitat of the herb:

Fields, waysides, waste places, copses etc, often on moist soils in shade.

Edible parts of Elecampane:

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.

Other uses of the herb:

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 medicinally.

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.

Cultivation of the herb:

Fields, waysides, waste places, copses etc, often on moist soils in shade.

Known hazards of Inula helenium:

None known

Plant information taken from the Plants For A Future.