| What is it?
The roots of Elecampane; long-lived plant whose stems grow up to 2 meters high and then support clusters of distinctive bright yellow flowers. Elecampane was also once known as ‘Elfwort’ because it was sacred to the ancient Celts and Druids.
How has it been used?
Elecampane root was one of the chief remedies for advanced chest diseases and has a long record for clearing old coughs, especially of tuberculosis. It has also been widely used a treatment for cold, congested conditions such as arthritis, rheumatism and bronchial conditions.
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'.
Traditional Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic physicians used Elecampane to treat respiratory problems, particularly bronchitis and asthma.
Nicholas Culpeper wrote 'Elecampane relieves cough, shortness of breath and wheezing in the lungs' and he also claimed it 'cures worms in the stomach'.
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.
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Science on Elecampane
~ Evidence supports the traditional reputation for Elecampane being very useful for coughs, colds and in the bronchial tubes and the lungs. The roots and rhizomes contain sesquiterpene lactones that have been shown to have potent healing, antiseptic and relaxant properties (British Herbal Medicine Association: British herbal compendium, Bournemouth, 1992, BHMA)
~ An extract from Elecampane (eudosmanolides) demonstrated ulcer healing properties, relieved symptoms and improved gastric mucosal circulation in a clinical trial with 102 patients with peptic ulcer disease (Luchkova MM: Fiziolohichnyi Zh 23(5): 1977, 686-687)
~ Experiments with extracts of Elecampane in the laboratory showed it to have potent antibacterial activity against an array of infectious organisms. European scientists have shown that Elecampane contains a substance (alantolactone) that helps rid the body of intestinal parasites (Cantrell CL et al: Planta Med 65(4):351-355, 1999)
~ Elecampane essential oil showed a relaxant action on isolated tracheal (throat) and ileal (gut) muscle in laboratory experiments and animal studies have shown it to have an overall relaxing effect (Reiter M, Brandt W: Arzneim Forsch 35(1A):408-414, 1985)
Safety of Elecampane
Elecampane is generally a safe and well-tolerated herb so long as it used in moderation, especially for the young or elderly. Excess doses will likely cause significant gastric upset fairly quickly so it would be difficult to overdose on this herb. Elecampane is not recommended to take during breastfeeding (the sesquiterpene lactones will pass into the milk and upset the baby's stomach) and it is unlikely to be of any direct danger but it is still recommended to avoid it during pregnancy.
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I have personally come to a deep respect for the healing power of Elecampane, not from any fast-acting miracles but rather from the phenomena of how this great herb actually strengthens the lungs.
Some years ago I obtained an electronic stethoscope that is able to accurately record the sound of the heart (and the breathing when needed) which can then save that sound in a computer file that can be called up to compare a 'before and after' in a subsequent appointment. This technology has enabled me to confirm something what can happen when Elecampane is used as a long term tonic. Any kind of long term respiratory problem causes the lungs to become audibly strained and weakened; there is a noticeable sound of ‘effort’ which you can hear through the stethoscope; it is distinctly out of harmony with how healthy and effortless breathing should sound. Elecampane literally strengthens the lungs; you can compare it and you can hear it.
Just as consistently taking Hawthorn audibly strengthens the heart so does Elecampane strengthen the lungs and anyone who has had a weakness in the lungs and experienced how much this affects their health will understand what an extraordinary ally we have with such a remedy.
Elecampane works slowly but surely to strengthen respiratory function. We don't know how that happens, although the science suggests a variety of ways the herb might influence the tissues of the lungs, the more important point is that it does really seem to help and I would urge anyone who has a history of asthma, chronic bronchitis or just general weakness in their breathing to give it a long and sustained trial for themselves without hesitation.
High doses of Elecampane are not necessary and probably inadvisable given this is a very potent herb. Equally one must take enough for it to keep exerting its therapeutic action every day and for most people I would say that would be around 2 or 3 mls of the tincture, perhaps a little more in a person who needed higher doses of substances in general to feel their effects.
I do also very much like to use Elecampane as a tea equally as much as the tincture and I find that just a gram or two a day that has been well extracted into water conveys great benefits, again so long as it is taken patiently and consistently. This is a true tonic herb which means the longer you take it the better it works...
If you who are reading this are studying herbal medicine or have your own reasons to want to get to know this great plant ally in much more depth then I warmly recommend you to take a small dose of its tea or tincture and then, with a quiet and attentive mind, observe for yourself what then happens as the herbs 'action' becomes apparent in your body. Like any kind of relationship, everyone has their own impressions when they do this kind of experiential learning but the common themes that come up with Elecampane is how deeply it penetrates into the core, how lingering are its effects and how it palpably opens up the lungs and somehow lifts the spirits in the process...
.Elecampane combines perfectly with Mullein and Licorice to help clear the lungs and with Aniseed and Lobelia to release spasm and constriction in the chest. It can also be a tremendous ally with Hawthorn when a person has become generally weakened in their heart and lungs - in such cases the long term use of the two herbs together can be nothing short of life-changing and life-saving.
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Much of the information here about the traditional uses of Elecampane is consistent with the model of thinking whereby one may treat problem A with plant B. There is value in this approach, especially in how it helps us pass on useful knowledge to one another, but it falls short in one vital area; and that is that people are not all cut from the same cloth! Something that works brilliantly for one person may do less for another -- why is this?
The reason is that people vary in their constitutions as to whether they are more hot or cool and at the same time more dry or damp; more info about this here.
There is an old wisdom in treating the person first and the condition second and in this light Elecampane can particularly offer its benefits when a cleansing action is needed in the 'cycle of healing' - something that is discussed here and shown in a chart here.
Excerpt from Felter & Lloyd's Kings Dispensatory from 1898
Elecampane is an aromatic stimulant and tonic, and is much used in chronic pulmonary affections and weakness of the digestive organs.
Night-sweats are relieved by Inula, as are some cases of humid asthma, and, by its tonic properties, it tends to sustain the strength of the patient in chronic disorders of the respiratory tract. Inula is somewhat slow in action, and should be used for quite a time to get its full action.
That it is an important remedy in irritation of the trachea and bronchiae is now well established. It is adapted to cases with free and abundant expectoration, teasing cough, and pain beneath the sternum, conditions frequent in the grippe, and the severer forms of colds.
Please understand that I cannot personally advise you, including on products or dosage, without seeing you in my clinic but ideas
on how you might find a good herbalist in your area are here.
This living 'book' is my labour of love so, wherever you are, I wish you peace & good health!
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