By Matt Osborne, Elecampane (Inula helenium) flower, photographed in Ottawa, Ontario in 2019 Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Botanical: Inula Helenium

Family: Asteraceae ~ Sunflower family

parts used: root, leaves – cooked. It contains up to 44% inulin. Inulin is a starch that cannot be digested by humans. It usually passes straight through the digestive system. Inulin can be converted into a sugar that is suitable for diabetics to eat.

energetics: warming, drying

properties: Leaves – diuretic, mildly expectorant, gently stimulant, stomachic, tonic Rootalterative, anthelmintic, antiseptic, astringent, bitter, cholagogue, demulcent, diaphoretic, diuretic, expectorant, gently stimulant, tonic

plant preparations: syrup, decoction, tincture, powder

common names: Elecampane, Wild sunflower, Horseheal, Elfwort

The ‘father of medicine’ Hippocrates said Elecampane stimulates the brain, kidneys, stomach and uterus and the great Roman naturalist Pliny wrote ‘let no day pass without eating some roots of Elecampane to help digestion, expel melancholy and cause mirth’.

One of Elecampane’s common names ‘Horseheal’ was derived from its use by veterinarians in treating lung disorders in horses. The Latin name ‘Helenium’ comes from the legend of Helen of Troy who was said to be carrying the plant when abducted by Paris.

As noted on Rosalee de la Forȇt’s website…[1]

It is a popular remedy in coughs, but is often used without sufficient discrimination; for while it answers an excellent purpose in sub-acute and chronic cases where the lung structure is relaxed and expectoration viscid or too profuse, (as in humid asthma,) it is not suitable for cases of any class where the lungs are irritated or dry–as it then increases the dryness, and gives a feeling of constriction.
– King’s American Dispensatory, 1898

Culinary Uses for Elecampane

The leaves are rather bitter and aromatic, they were used as a potherb by the ancient Romans but are rarely used at present.

Cosmetic Uses for Elecampane

A blue dye is obtained from the bruised and macerated root mixed with ashes and whortle berries (Vaccinium myrtillus). The root yields up to 2% of a camphor-scented essential oil, this is used as a flavoring and medicinally.

Using Elecampane for Wellness

Elecampane roots are one of the greatest source for inulin. You can really see the inulin when you make a tincture and it sets awhile in the bottle. There will appear to be a milky substance in the lower third of the bottle. It is a starch that healthy gut bacteria like to feed on. I’ve even heard inulin referred to as a “probiotic.” According to Matthew Wood, “Inula is nutritious and rebuilding in old, worn-out, exhausted, and broken-down states, with poor nutrition and assimilation.”

Elecampane Honey

Fill a small jar 1/2 full with thinly sliced fresh Elecampane root. Pour honey into the jar, covering the root. Honey will extract moisture from the root, so leave a little empty space at the top of the jar. Turn the jar over periodically for full coverage of the root. Let sit for 4 – 6 weeks and then store in the cupboard. Take directly by the spoonful or add to tea. Also, you can suck and chew on the slices of the root. (source unknown)

  • “This remedy provides a good illustration of the complex and integrated ways in which herbs work. The mucilage has a relaxing effect, while the essential oils bring about stimulation, so the herb both soothes irritation and promotes expectoration. These actions are combined with an overall antibacterial effect.” [2]
  • “Elecampane fresh root is known primarily as an antiseptic expectorant for bronchitis, pneumonia and pertussis, especially if they present with a persistent ticklish cough with pain in the chest or ribs.” [3]
  • “Elecampane is a warming, stimulating, pungent, aromatic bitter that permeates the bronchial tree. It resolves bacterial infection, reducing heavy, thick, green mucus down to yellow and eventually to white or clear mucus as it sanitizes the lungs. It is specific to yellow and green mucus, indicating bacterial infection.” [4]
  • “The direct tonic influence of inula seems to be exercised also upon the respiratory tract after protracted disease promoting recovery. Where there is persistent irritating cough, with pain beneath the sternum, and abundant expectoration, the condition being acute or sub-acute in character, and accompanied with sonic elevation of the temperature, it will be found serviceable. It is an expectorant of a soothing character.” [5]
  • “It is suited to old, lingering, infected pulmonary conditions that slip into asthma – also to recent-onset bronchitis in children, with gushing mucus, swallowing of mucus, when the cough reflex will not descend deep enough to bring out the big clump or mucus.”[4]
  • “Not only is it suited to old infections in the lungs, where the mucus is green or yellow from the presence of bacteria, but it has a facility for “getting the job done” when there is a lingering, stuck infection that will not yield to treatment.”[4]
  • “this plant also decreases spasms of the chest making it useful in bronchitis, asthma and bronchial pneumonia” [6]
  • “To the lungs it is warming and strengthening, promoting the discharge of viscid mucous, but leaving the surfaces slightly dry. It is a popular remedy in coughs, but is often used without sufficient discrimination; for while it answers an excellent purpose in sub-acute and chronic cases where the lung structure is relaxed and expectoration viscid or too profuse, (as in humid asthma,) it is not suitable for cases of any class where the lungs are irritated or dry – as it then increases the dryness, and gives a feeling of constriction.” [7]
  • “Elecampane is an antiseptic expectorant that is useful in treating laryngitis.” Duke also suggests an herbal tea for laryngitis using a “three-herb combo teas suggestion from David Hoffman, that is made with equal parts of elecampane, horehound and mullein. Duke says that “you might try one teaspoon of each per cup of boiling water and steep for ten minutes.” [8]

An extract of the plant is a powerful antiseptic and bactericide, particularly effective against the organism that causes TB. The root contains alantolactone, which is strongly anthelmintic. In a 1:1000 dilution it kills the parasitic worm Ascaris in 16 hours. Alantolactone has an anti-inflammatory action, it also reduces mucous secretions and stimulates the immune system. The plant is sometimes recommended as an external wash for skin inflammations and varicose ulcers, but has been known to cause allergic reactions.

Elecampane oil has been used for hundreds of years to settle stomachs and aid digestion. It can also improve nutrient intake and eliminate parasites, such as intestinal worms.

elecampage - Inula Helenium

“It is an hearbe greatly to be esteemed of students, for by a special property it driveth away heaviness of mind, sharpeneth the understanding, and encreaseth memory.”
~ Thomas Coghan, a 16th Century Oxford Don6

Clinical Research on Elecampane


  • Elecampane Uses
  • Bove, Mary, N.D., An Encyclopedia of Natural Healing for Children & Infants. New Canaan, Connecticut, Keats Publlishing, Inc. 1996.
  • Buhner, Steven Harrod. Herbal Antibiotics. North Adams, MA, Storey Publishing. 2012
  • Ellingwood,M.D., Finley. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics and Pharmacognosy. 1919.
  • Gibbons, Euell. Stalking the Healthful Herbs. New York,David McKay Company, Inc. 1966.
  • Grieve, Mrs. M. A Modern Herbal, Volume I. New York, Dover Publications, Inc., 1971 (originally published in 1931).
  • Hoffmann, David. Medical Herbalism. Rochester, Vermont, Healing Arts Press. 2003
  • Winston, David. Herbal Therapeutics. Broadway, N.J., Herbal Therapeutics Research Library, 2003
  • Wood, Matthew. The Book of Herbal Wisdom. Berkeley, California, North Atlantic Books, 1997
  • Cook, William, M.D. The Physiomedical Dispensatory. 1869.
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