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Inula helenium L. Elecampane, Scabwort

Family: Compositae.
Description: Large perennial consisting of tuberous branching rootstock of considerable size from which each year arise stiff robust stems, 60-200cm high. Elliptical leaves at base, hairy and up to 60cm long on a fleshy stalks; stem leaves similar but smaller and sessile with finely toothed margin. Single yellow flowerheads, 6-8cm diameter, with pronounced bracts.
Habitat: Native to SE Europe and western Asia, found widely in temperate regions world-wide; on roadsides, waste places and old gardens.
Harvest: In autumn after stem has died back.

Part used: Roots.
Dosage: 1:5 Tincture: 3-5ml tds, Fluid Extract: 1-2ml tds, Dried: 1-4g tds.

Character: Bitter and slightly sweet, warm and dry, (Ody, 1993).

-ANTHELMINTIC (Bradley, 1992);
-digestive tonic,
-bacteriostatic (Mills,1993).

Organ systems: Respiratory.

-Bronchitis, [chest infections], coughs, catarrhal conditions of respiratory tract, (Bradley, 1992);
-Long standing respiratory complaints, eg. asthma;
-Hayfever symptoms [hit and miss];
-Debility, chronic fatigue syndrome; also while convalescing -AD.

External usage:
-As a wash (diluted tincture) for eczema, rashes, varicose ulcers (Ody, 1993).

Safety: Good for children; ‘elecampane is quite safe to use even for most infirm’, Mills, 1993:478; occasional allergic reactions may occur (Bradley, 1992). (Komm. E: ‘Use not recommended in view of risks of allergy’.)

Contra-indications: Pregnancy and lactation.

Key Constituents (Mills, 1993):
-Essential oil: ‘helenin’, solid at room temperature: incl. camphor, alantl, alantoic acid, alantolactone;
-Bitter principles: sesquiterpene lactones, possibly incl. alatolactone;
-Triterpene saponins; sterols; possible alkaloids;
-Inulin, up to 40% in autumn.

Pharmacology: Alantolactone and compounds are main active constituents with expectorant, secretolytic and anti-tussive activity; helenin has been used clinically as anthelmintic; (Bradley, 1992). Essential oil shown to have stimulating effect on mucocilary escalator in number of other remedies…and saponins exert stimulating effect on bronchial structures by reflex from their detergent irritant effect on stomach wall. Essential oil also antiseptic and active against the tubercle bacillus. (Mills, 1993).
Toxicology: No studies found.

History: Regarded almost as a cure-all by Greeks and Romans; used by Anglo-Saxons as a tonic, for skin disease and leprosy. Name Scabwort arose from fact that a decoction of it was said to cure sheep of the scab, (Smith). By 19th century , used in skin disease, neuralgia, liver problems and coughs; now, however, mainly for respiratory complaints. (Ody, 1993)

Traditional and Practitioner sources:
“Inula campana reddit praecordia sana.” Traditional Latin saying. (Ody, 1993)

“It is good for the shortnesse of breath and an old cough, and for such as cannot breathe unless they hold their neckes upright.” Gerard (Smith, 1977: 70), [ie may be good at bedtime when lying down].

“An ideal remedy for chronic bronchial conditions of the elderly, but can in general be used for any obstructive pulmonary disease, with its antiseptic effects, warming and diaphoretic effects having valuable back-up benefits.” Simon Mills, 1993: 478

“A fine combination lung tonic is prepared by mixing half an ounce each of Elecampane root, Black Horehound, Comfrey root and Ground Ivy, with a quarter ounce of ground Ginger. Make a 2 pint decoction and sweeten with honey or molasses and take in wineglassful doses as often as necessary.” William Smith, 1977: 70.

“Gently stimulating tonic expectorant for chronic catarrhal conditions: warming, strengthening and cleansing to pulmonary mucous membranes. Indicated for chronic pectoral states with excessive catarrh and/ or a tubercular diathesis. Indications:-
-Bronchial and gastric catarrh;
-Chronic bronchitis, tuberculosis -with Symphytum officinale;
-Emphysematous conditions;
-Chronic cough in elderly -with Sticta pulmonaria.” Priest and Priest, 1983: 92.

Bel Charlesworth Medical Herbalist

Bel Charlesworth MNIMH
Medical Herbalist

BSc Herbal Medicine

Member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists since 2003

Tel: 07775 920079

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