Elecampane

(Inula helenium)     
Perennial
Common names: Alant, Elfdock, Elfwort, Horse Elder, Horse-heal, Scabwort, Wild Sunflower, Yellow Starwort, Velvet Dock     Family: Compositae
Range: Native to Europe and Asia.  Introduced to China and the U.S.

 

History:  There are several stories that try to explain how this plant got it's name.  For instance, Gerard asserted that, "It took the name Helenium of Helena, wife of Menelaus, who had her hands full of it when Paris stole her away into Phrygia."  Others say that it was named for the island of Helena, where the most favored medicinal plants reputedly grew.  But, most likely, its name is a corruption of the Greek word "Helenion."

For centuries, this herb was cultivated as a medicine and as a condiment.  As Pliny once wrote, "Let no day pass without eating some of the roots of Enula, considered to help digestion and cause mirth" and that the root, when chewed, "doth fasten the teeth."  Galen proclaimed elecampane to be "good for passions of the hucklebone called sciatica."

 

During the Middle Ages, elecampane was a common ingredient in cordials and was the usual remedy for sea sickness.  In the 20th century, elecampane was still being sold as a candied confection, although this treat - where it is still offered - is now made with synthetic ingredients.

 

The main constituents of this herb are alantolacton, isolantolacton and other sesquiterpenlactones.  The combination of these lend an antiphlogostic and antibiotic effect.  The plant also offers some antifungal properties.  The rhizome is used to treat bronchitis and whooping cough.  This herb has also been used to treat menstrual cramps and given as a diuretic and stomachic.  In homeopathy, elecampane formulas are given to treat chronic cough and stomach ulcers.

 

Constituents:  Volatile oil (alantolactone, isolantolactone, isoalantolactone, 11-13-dihydroisoalantolactone, etc.).  The alantolactone derivatives are collectively known as helenalin or elecampane camphor.

 

Cautions:  Not to be used during pregnancy or while nursing.  Large doses can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, spasms and signs of paralysis.  Constituents of this herb are highly irritating to mucous membranes.

 

 

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