Botanical name: Inula helenium
© 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):
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
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
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
At the time of writing, there were no well-known drug interactions
1. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients
Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1996,
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.