Botanical description: Elecampane is an herbaceous perennial plant often growing to 5 feet or taller. The large, erect stalk grows up from a rosette of large ovate leaves. Leaves on the stem are alternate, clasping, and are shorter than the rosette leaves. Flowers are bright yellow with both disc and ray flowers characteristic of the Asteraceae family. The outer, ray flowers are very narrow, almost hair-like. The entire plant is covered with downy hair. Elecampane blooms in late summer.
It is found throughout Europe and temperate Asia. It has become naturalized in North America as well.
Elecampane is easily cultivated by seed and prefers rich, damp, well-drained soil in full or part sun. Roots are best harvested after 2 to 3 years in the fall or early spring.
Parts used: Roots
Taste: acrid, bitter, pungent
"fasteneth loose teeth and keeps them from putrefaction, and being drunk is good for spitting of blood, and it removes cramps or convulsions, gout, sciatica, pains in the joints, applied outwardly or inwardly, and is also good for those that ruptured, or have any inward bruise."
Its use persisted in Europe through to recent times. As early as 50 years ago elecampane candy could be purchased in England for use against “bad air” (Grieve).
In the early 1900’s, Jethro Kloss wrote of elecampane’s use in treating tuberculosis (combined with echinacea). He described it as “warming and strengthening to the lungs, promoting expectoration.” He went on to say “it strengthens, cleanses, and tones up the pulmonary and gastric membranes”. Around the same time its use among the eclectics was documented by Felter in his Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Felter wrote about elecampanes power against respiratory infection and its great use as an expectorant. He writes…
"Inula is of greatest service in bronchial irritation, with cough of a persistent, teasing character, with copious expectoration."
Key uses: Helps clear phlegm and mucous from the respiratory, urinary, and digestive systems. Prebiotic for beneficial gut bacteria. Helpful for chronic respiratory infection. Useful for coughs, bronchitis and other pulmonary diseases, digestive complaints, and asthma.
Clinical uses: As a bitter and an aromatic, elecampane is helpful for digestive complaints like sluggish digestion or indigestion. It is stimulating to digestion and appetite, and helps clear excess mucus from the digestive tract. The inulin content also feeds healthy intestinal flora, thus strengthening digestion.
Elecampane shines as a respiratory herb. It is indicated for almost any respiratory condition of an acute or chronic nature. As a respiratory expectorant, elecampane helps to move out excessive mucus. Non-productive coughs become productive and fluid in the lungs is gently expelled and airways are relaxed and opened. Because of this action, elecampane is found to be useful for asthma, pertussis, pneumonia, tuberculosis, and even emphysema. It is safe for children and the elderly, and combines well with other herbs in formula.
Matthew Wood writes that elecampane has been used historically for “proud flesh” where a wound is not producing a scab. He describes how using elecampane externally can help old wounds to heal, and that this may also explain why elecampane is so valuable for treating old, chronic infections internally as well. This can be seen when the mucus expelled is green or yellow, indicating bacteria. Elecampane’s use leads to the color changing to white and then clear, showing its effectiveness as an antiseptic.
As an emotional medicine, elecampane is a remedy of the heart. It can be helpful in cases of sadness and grief. It is especially indicated in instances of extreme homesickness, as when someone can never return to one’s homeland.
Studies: In a 2009 study published in the British Journal of Biomedical Science, researchers studied the antimicrobial effects of Inula helenium against 200 strains of Staphylococcus aureus, including MRSA. Results proved I. helenium to be 100% effective against all strains, including the antibiotic-resistant and sensitive strains.
Personal observations: I have personally had great success growing this plant and harvesting the roots for medicine. It is an impressive and beautiful plant in the garden. If given a few years to grow, the roots are big enough to offer up enough medicine for a family’s use for a year from a single plant.
I have made fresh root tinctures, elixirs, infused honey, and especially candied elecampane from the freshly dug roots. For the candy, I slice the washed roots thinly and put in a jar, covered with honey. I let them sit for a few weeks. The honey softens the roots, and also infuses with their medicine. Then I gently warm the honey enough to thin it so I can strain out the root slices. I save the honey for adding to teas, or just taking by the spoonful. The root slices are spread on a dehydrator sheet and dried until the honey coating them becomes solid. I put these candied roots in a jar for chewing on whenever someone has a sore throat or just lots of mucus.
Elecampane is one of my most used respiratory herbs in both syrups and tincture formulas. I have found it to be reliable for expelling mucus and helping coughs become more productive. I try to never be without this plant, especially during cold and flu season.
Cautions and considerations: May cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to the asteraceae family
Easley, T., and Horne, S. (2016). The Modern Herbal Dispensatory. California: North Atlantic Books
Hoffman, D. (2003). Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont. Healing Arts Press.
Wood, M. (2008). The Earthwise Herbal (New World edition). Berkeley, California: North) Atlantic Books.
Grieve, M. (1982 reprint). A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publications.
Felter, H. W. (1922). The Eclectic Materia Medica, Pharmacology and Therapeutics. Cincinnati, Oh. Eclectic Medical Publications.
Kloss, J. (1939). Back to Eden.
O’Shea, S., Lucey, B. (2009) In vitro activity of Inula helenium against clinical Staphylococcus aureus strains including MRSA [British Journal of Biomedical Science]. Retrieved February 2, 2021, from https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/09674845.2009.11730271