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Elecampane

Common name: Inula

Botanical name: Inula helenium

Photo

© Martin Wall

Parts used and where grown

Elecampane is indigenous to Europe and Asia and is now grown in the United States. The dried roots and rhizomes (branching part of the root) are collected in fall or early winter and used in herbal preparations.

Elecampane has been used in connection with the following conditions (refer to the individual health concern for complete information):

Science Ratings Health Concerns
1Star

Asthma

Bronchitis

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

Cough

Indigestion

3Stars Reliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
2Stars Contradictory, insufficient, or preliminary studies suggesting a health benefit or minimal health benefit.
1Star For an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support and/or minimal health benefit.

Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)

Traditionally, herbalists have used elecampane to treat coughs, particularly those associated with bronchitis, asthma, and whooping cough.1 The herb has also been used historically to treat poor digestion and general complaints of the intestinal tract.

Active constituents

Elecampane root and rhizome contain approximately 1–4% volatile oils.2 Most of these volatile oils are composed of sesquiterpene lactones, including alantolactone. Elecampane is also very high in inulin (44%)3 and mucilage. Most herbal texts attribute the actions of elecampane to alantolactone.4 The antitussive (cough prevention and treatment) and carminative (soothing effect on the intestinal tract) effects of elecampane, however, may possibly be due to the inulin and mucilage content. Isolated alantolactone has been used to treat parasites (e.g., roundworm, threadworm, hookworm, whipworm). This use is only by prescription and is not approved in all European countries.5

How much is usually taken?

The German Commission E Monograph states the historical application of elecampane has not been adequately proven to recommend its use.6 This is partially based on the potential side effects listed below. For traditional use, elecampane is typically recommended as a tea. Boiling water is poured over 1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) of the ground root and rhizome, left to steep for ten to fifteen minutes, then strained. One cup of this preparation is taken three to four times daily. Some texts recommend 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (3–5 ml) of a tincture three times daily.7

Are there any side effects or interactions?

The inulin in elecampane root is widely distributed in fruits, vegetables and plants. It is classified as a food ingredient (not as an additive) and is considered safe to eat.8 In fact, inulin is a significant part of the daily diet of most of the world’s population.9 However, there is a report of a 39-year-old man having a life-threatening allergic reaction after consuming high amounts of inulin from multiple sources.10 Allergy to inulin in this individual was confirmed by laboratory tests. Such sensitivities are extremely rare. Moreover, this man did not take elecampane. Nevertheless, people with a confirmed sensitivity to inulin should avoid elecampane.

Alantolactone can be an irritant to the intestinal tract and, along with other sesquiterpene lactones in elecampane, may cause localized irritation in the mouth. Amounts several times higher than those stated above may cause vomiting, diarrhea, spasms, and signs of paralysis.11 If these symptoms occur, people should contact their local poison control center. Pregnant or nursing women should not use elecampane.

At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions with elecampane.

References:

1. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996, 222–4.

2. Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994, 254–6.

3. Duke, JA. Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS Herbs and Other Economic Plants. Boca Raton, FL; CRC Press, 1992.

4. Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994, 254–6.

5. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 106–7.

6. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 328–9.

7. Bradley PR (ed). British Herbal Compendium, vol. 1. Bournemouth, England: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1992, 87–8.

8. Carabin IG, Flamm WG. Evaluation of safety of inulin and oligofructose as dietary fiber. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 1999;30:268–82 [review].

9. Coussement PA. Inulin and oligofructose: safe intakes and legal status. J Nutr 1999;129:1412S–7S [review].

10. Gay-Crosier F, Schreiber G, Hauser C. Anaphylaxis from inulin in vegetables and processed food. N Engl J Med 2000;342:1372 [letter].

11. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, et al. (eds). PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics, 1998, 912–3.

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