Elecampane used to be called elfin root - possibly it was believed elves hid under its large leaves, or the root was thought to treat poisoned elf arrow wounds. It’s also thought that the tears of Helen of Troy - sad to leave her home of Sparta - generated the elecampane plant (De la Foret, n.d., Hayes, n.d.). Elecampane is native to Europe and Asia and has had a long history of use, with records from Minoan, Mycenaean, Egyptian, Assyrian and Serbian manuscripts from as far back as 2700–1100 B.C., with the root used in many traditional medical systems - Tibetan, Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine (Kenny et al., 2022). Much of its power lies in draining or breaking up stuck mucus or dampness in the body.
It has also been used to treat coughs and skin eruptions in animals, which is why some of its other common names are horseheal and scabwort (Hayes, n.d.).
Elecampane has long been used to support deep-seated congestion in the lungs - when there’s mucus down there that isn’t coming up. Specifically, its stimulating action helps to move old mucus in the lungs, and it may also help with the cough reflex in getting the mucus out and provide pain relief (Hayes, n.d.). It’s similarly thought to facilitate the release of stuck mucus in sinuses. Tuberculosis, asthma, and bronchitis are among the issues it has often been used to treat (Herbazest, n.d.). The scent of elecampane root gives a sense of its strong antimicrobial property, which can also provide support with respiratory infections.
In vitro research has shown that elecampane root extract and alantolactone, a constituent of elecampane, impede the adherence of neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, on epithelial cells that line the lungs. Prolonged adherence of neutrophils to the inflamed site in the respiratory system during in respiratory infections can cause injury to the tissue; the anti-adherence (and therefore inflammation-modulating) effect by elecampane extract and alantolactone was comparable to the effect of two known substances used as controls (Michalek et al., 2019).
Recent in vitro research has demonstrated its activity against Staphylococcus aureus - which has become resistant to several antibiotic drugs (Kenny et al., 2022). Other bacteria it acted against in vitro were: Group-A Streptococcus pyogenes, Group-B Streptococcus agalactiae, Listeria monocytogenes, Escherichia faecalis, Escherichia coli, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis - the bacteria that causes tuberculosis (Kenny et al., 2022).
Traditionally, elecampane had been used as a digestive tonic, to support healthy digestion, as well as to address digestive distress (Tobyn et al., 2011). As a bitter herb, it can help stimulate bile production, which facilitates digestion of fats.
Elecampane can help when digestion is poor and nutrients are not being absorbed - signs can be low appetite; feeling like food stays stuck in the stomach; thick white tongue coating; bloating; mucus in the digestive system (De la Foret, n.d.).
In addition, elecampane root is high in inulin (which is what the Inula in its name refers to); inulin feeds bacteria in the gut, which support healthy digestion.
Elecampane also works against parasites and worms in the intestines as well as against Candida albicans (Hayes, n.d.).
Elecampane root has been used for urinary tract infections or cloudy urine as a diuretic, facilitating excretion of urine, but can also be used for edema (swelling in the body from excess fluid). It can also help with congestion in the uterus, such as with delayed or stuck menses (De la Foret, n.d.).
Gerard and Culpeper, herbalists of the 14th and 15th centuries, recommended elecampane use internally and externally for gout, sciatica, and painful joints repeat the recommendation for internal and external use of the root in gout, sciatica and painful joints (Tobyn et al., 2011). These and other herbalists of that and earlier times also used elecampane internally and externally for ulcers of skin and itchy skin conditions of people and animals (Tobyn et al., 2011).
Elecampane is generally considered safe. It is a member of the Daisy family, so if people have a contact sensitivity to ragwort or other Daisy family plants, they may have a reaction to elecampane. Elecampane root has a large amount of inulin, which may cause bloating in some people if consumed in large amounts. It is thought to stimulate the uterus, and has a strong flavour, so best to avoid during pregnancy or lactation (De la Foret, n.d., Hayes, n.d.). Due to the high inulin content, which can affect blood sugar, diabetics should monitor their blood sugar levels when consuming elecampane (Hayes, n.d.).