The Health Benefits of Elecampane

An Herb Used to Help Respiratory and Digestive Issues

Elecampane (Inula helenium L.) is an herb originating from Europe and parts of Asia. Most commonly, elecampane is used to move phlegm that causes respiratory issues and eliminate intestinal bacteria to improve stomach issues.

The root and sometimes the rhizomes from two- to three-year-old elecampane plants are used in herbal medicine formed into teas, tinctures, medicinal honey, syrup, capsules, extracts, or sweet confections. Elecampane is also used to provide flavor in foods and beverages, and to lend fragrance in beauty products.

History

The scientific name of elecampane was thought to be named after Helen of Troy and is part of the Asteraceae family. The ancient Romans initially used elecampane as a remedy for many ailments, specifically those of the skin, brain, kidneys, stomach, and uterus. Elecampane was later popularly used in lozenge form in the 17th century.

Health Benefits

There have been very few medical research studies of the health benefits of elecampane or the compounds it contains. While it hasn't been approved for the prevention or treatment of any illness or condition, elecampane is said to be an antispasmodic (relieves muscle spasms and tension), a hepatic tonic (soothes and tones the liver), and has cancer-fighting properties, like preventing the growth of tumors. Other potential benefits include:

Ease Digestive Issues

This herb contains a large amount of the prebiotic soluble fiber inulin, which supports a healthy intestinal tract. Dietary inulin is found in many foods (including whole wheat, onions, and garlic) and is said to slow digestive metabolism and reduce blood glucose spikes in people with diabetes. Inulin from chicory root is now being added to many foods to boost their soluble fiber content.

Elecampane is also used to soothe nausea, flatulence, and diarrhea, which may be caused by worms present in the intestines. Elecampane contains phytochemicals alantolactone and isoalantolactone, which are said to address worms such as hookworm, roundworm, threadworm, and whipworm.

Soothe Pain and Inflammation

Some herbal medicine practitioners say elecampane could be used to ease pain stemming from lung diseases such as asthma, bronchitis, and whooping cough. Since elecampane is said to prevent coughing, this herb may also relieve symptoms of tuberculosis. Elecampane is said to loosen phlegm in these situations so a person will cough and expel it from the body. Studies have also found sesquiterpene lactone compounds in the herb have an anti-inflammatory effect.

Fight Bacteria

Elecampane has astringent and antimicrobial properties, which may act against bacterial infection. Elecampane has also been said to promote sweating in individuals who are attempting to rid their bodies of bacteria or a virus.

While a 2009 study found the antimicrobial compounds of elecampane as a potential treatment against Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), MRSA can be dangerous and even fatal, so it's best to see a medical doctor if you're experiencing any symptoms.

Most of the uses and benefits ascribed to elecampane come from herbal supplement manufacturers and other commercial purveyors of the herb and its preparations. They are not backed by published research.

Possible Side Effects

It is not recommended to take elecampane if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, though the herb is considered safe for children and the elderly.

Elecampane is not ideal to relieve hot, dry, and irritated coughs and should be avoided by individuals experiencing these symptoms.

If you're allergic to ragweed or other plants in the Asteraceae family—including chrysanthemums, marigolds, daisies, feverfew, chamomile, and echinacea—do not take elecampane.

As many herbs do, elecampane may interfere with normal levels of blood pressure. If you specifically have fluctuating blood pressure readings, are taking prescription medication for blood pressure, and are taking elecampane, consult your doctor. It may also interfere with blood sugar control in those with diabetes. If you have diabetes, ask your doctor before adding any medication or herbal medicine to your daily regimen.

Elecampane often causes drowsiness due to its ability to affect the central nervous system. If elecampane is combined with anesthesia, this drowsiness will potentially be fatal. It's recommended to stop taking elecampane at least two weeks before a scheduled surgery involving the use of anesthesia. For this reason, elecampane is also contraindicated for use with other sedative medications (such as Klonopin, Ativan, Donnatal, and Ambien) due to its ability to cause drowsiness.

Selection, Preparation, and Storage

There is no recommended dosage of elecampane, as it is an herb not often used and not evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

For adults over the age of 18, sources recommend 1.5–4 grams of elecampane root in capsule form, or 15–20 drops of elecampane tincture per day. However, these claims have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not verified or supported.

Elecampane root tea requires 1 tablespoon of dried root in 2 cups of water, boiled and simmered for 20 minutes. Given its naturally bitter taste, sweeteners can be added to the tea.

Fresh elecampane roots should be stored as any roots would be. Dried roots should be kept out of direct sunlight after being chopped and cleaned.

Elecampane is also available in essential oil form, offering purported antifungal properties. As with many essential oils, elecampane essential oil may cause sensitivities or allergic reactions to those individuals who have never used it. Use with caution and always do a skin patch test before applying any new essential oil. Elecampane in this form may have additional benefits and side effects, so research carefully before using.

Elecampane may be used fresh, dried, powdered, or candied, according to personal preference and available resources.

Growing Your Own Elecampane

Elecampane is grown from seeds plants in spring or fall. This is a perennial plant often grown ornamentally. Elecampane plants thrive in full to part sun with well-drained soil.

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