What is Elecampane?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2017
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Elecampane is plant in the aster family which is native to Central Asia. It has been used as a traditional herbal remedy by many cultures, including the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and it is available as a dietary supplement in some regions of the world. Conclusive studies on the effects of elecampane have not been conducted; some people believe that the plant is highly useful, while others dismiss it as a worthless herbal remedy. The plant is not generally harmful, so supplementing other treatments with elecampane should not cause damage, although it might not help, either.

The botanical name of this plant is Inula helenium. There is some dispute over how the plant got the common name of “elecampane.” The word could be related to the roots “Helen” for Helen of Troy and campana for field, leading some people to suggest that the plant is named for the tears of Helen of Troy. Others believe that “Helenium” is a place name, and that the finest examples of the plant may have been cultivated there. In any case, the plant grows on talk stalks with simple, toothed leaves and bright yellow flower heads, and the roots of the plant are the portion used in herbal remedies.

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The plant is also known as scabwort or horseheal, in a reference to the fact that preparations of elecampane were traditionally used to treat skin complaints on large animals like cows, horses, and sheep. Some people may also call it “wild sunflower,” which is a bit of a misnomer, since the plant is not at all related to sunflowers. In people, the plant is used to treat respiratory complaints, amenorrhea, and as an expectorant. Some herbal healers may also recommend it for other conditions.

Large amounts of elecampane appear to bring on intestinal irritation, which may manifest in the form of diarrhea or vomiting. Some people are particularly sensitive to the natural inulin in elecampane, so if these symptoms are observed, the patient should immediately stop taking elecampane. The herb is also not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, since its efficacy has not been fully determined.

As is the case with all herbal remedies, elecampane should not be taken without medical supervision. It may conflict with other medications, or it may be contraindicated due to various medical conditions. Patients who are considering the use of elecampane should discuss the herb with their doctors before taking it.

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