Elecampane (Inula helenium) is a Herb Used in Traditional Herbal Medicine

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Medicinal Herbs & Therapeutic Botanicals

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Medicinal Herb: Elecampane (Inula helenium)

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Elecampane (Inula helenium) is a tall, attractive perennial that grows to about 2 m. The stems are hairy, erect, and bearing large, alternate, elliptical leaves to 45 cm long and 15 cm wide and are velvety on the under-side, hairy above and dentate-serrate along the margine (Stuart 1979).

Elecampane (Inula helenium)



Elecampane (Inula helenium)

FlowerBiological Name:
Inula helenium


Other Names: 
Inula, inul, horseheal, elf dock, elfwort, horse elder, scabwort, yellow starwort, velvet dock, wild sunflower.

Parts Used:
The root, preferably collected in the fall of the second year and thoroughly freed from dirt, sliced crosswise or lengthwise and carefully dried in the shade (Sievers, 1930).

Active Compounds: 
Inula helenium contains the following constituents: Inulin (40%), essential oil, comprising a mixture of lactones, chiefly alantolactone; resin; a complex camphor, elecampane camphore; mucilage (Stuart, 1979). Bohmann et al., (1978) have identified 20 lactones (Bohlmann, et al., 1978).

Traditional Uses in Herbal Medicine

Inula helenium (Compositae) is an herb traditionally used as a home remedy in Japan, as a diaphoresis in Europe, and in Taiwan and China, as a therapeutic agent for tuberculotic enterorrhea and chronic enterogastritis (Chen, et al., 2007).

Stuart (1979) suggests its actions to be: Bactericidal; antitussive; expectorant; tonic; weak cholagogue.

Elecampance is employed chiefly in the treatment of respiratory disorders, especially bronchitis, coughs, and catarrh (Stuart 1979, Hall, 1988).

In addition, Inula helenium is officially listed in some European pharmacopoeias as a diuretic, diaphoretic, expectorant and anthelmintic remedy. Extracts from the root as well as the eudesmane-type sesquiterpene lactones alantolactone and isoalantolactone (major constituents of I. helenium) possess antiinflammatory, antimicrobial and anthelmintic activities. Moreover, the two compounds show cytotoxic and antiproliferative activities against human cancer cell lines (Stojakowska, et al., 2005).

Other Indications:

Gastro-Intestinal Tract

  • stimulates digestion,
  • strengthens stomach, and
  • chronic diarrhoea
  • intestinal catarrh

Respiratory Tract

  • bronchitis,
  • inflammation of the respiratory tract
  • respiratory catarrh,
  • tuberculosis of the lungs and
  • whooping cough.

External applications: as a wash or fomentation for skin problems such as scabies and itches.



Sievers, A.F. 1930. The Herb Hunters Guide. Misc. Publ. No. 77. USDA, Washington DC.

Stuart, M. (1979) The encyclopedia of Herbs and Herbalism. Orbis Publishing Limited, London.

Chia-Nan Chen, Hsin-Hsiu Huang, Chia-Li Wu, Coney P.C. Lin, John T.A. Hsu, Hsing-Pang Hsieh, Shuang-En Chuang and Gi-Ming Lai (2007) Isocostunolide, a sesquiterpene lactone, induces mitochondrial membrane depolarization and caspase-dependent apoptosis in human melanoma cells. Cancer Letters, Volume 246, Issues 1-2, 8, Pages 237-252

Hall, D. (1988) Dorothy Hall's Herbal Medicine. Lothian Publishing, Melourne, Australia.

Anna Stojakowska, Bogdan K?dziaan and Wanda Kisiel (2005) Antimicrobial activity of 10-isobutyryloxy-8,9-epoxythymol isobutyrate. Fitoterapia. Volume 76, Issues 7-8, Pages 687-690.

Ferdinand Bohlmann, Pradip K. Mahanta, Jasmin Jakupovic, Ramesh C. Rastogi and Arvind A. Natu (1978). New sesquiterpene lactones from Inula species. Phytochemistry Volume 17, Issue 7, Pages 1165-1172

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