Elecampane root (Inula helenium) is an herb that’s used as a dietary supplement for various health conditions.
It’s native to Europe, where it has a long history of use, and it’s also used in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Because of its widespread use in folk medicine, you may wonder whether elecampane root is worth adding to your health routine.
This article reviews what elecampane root is, as well as its best uses, potential benefits, and side effects.
Elecampane root is an herb of the Compositae or Asteraceae family. It’s native to Europe and has a history of medicinal use. Its plant grows a large yellow flower on a stem that can reach 8 feet (2.4 meters) in height.
Other common names for elecampane are elfwort, elfdock, scabwort, horseheal, and yellow starwort.
People have also used elecampane root as a flavoring agent for foods and beverages, as well as a fragrance in soaps and cosmetic products.
When taken as a dietary supplement, it’s most often as an antimicrobial agent or to alleviate respiratory or gastrointestinal issues.
People have long used elecampane root and other species of the Inula genus of herbs in folk medicine to thin mucus, suppress coughing, promote sweating, alleviate vomiting, and kill bacteria (
Elecampane root is part of a flowering plant in the Compositae or Asteraceae family. It has a history of use in folk medicine for respiratory, microbial, and gastrointestinal issues.
While people have used elecampane root for a number of health-related issues throughout history, not much scientific evidence is available on its uses. There are over 100 species in the Inula genus, but scientists have only studied a handful of them (
Overall, there isn’t a lot of clinical evidence behind the effectiveness of this herb for many of the ways people have used it historically. However, its extracts appear to have therapeutic potential that could have several applications.
Exhibits anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects
Elecampane root contains active compounds with anti-inflammatory properties, which may help treat inflammation-related respiratory diseases (
One review of over 120 studies suggested that elecampane has antioxidant activity that may help fight oxidative stress and inflammatory diseases, including cancer, impaired brain function, and diabetes (
While more research is needed, much of this antioxidant activity is attributed to the compound alantolactone found in the Inula genus of herbs, including elecampane (
May have anticancer properties
One study examined available research on the traditional uses of 16 Inula species, including elecampane. One area of focus was cancer (
Scientists need to conduct more studies in humans. However, the authors noted that preliminary studies suggest that compounds from Inula species may exhibit anticancer activity (
Furthermore, test-tube studies have found that elecampane extract may be toxic to certain cancer cells and have significant antitumor effects. For instance, researchers have observed antitumor effects in studies on brain cancer (
Additionally, one test-tube study found that the compound isoalantolactone, isolated from elecampane, exhibited potential antitumor effects in the case of pancreatic cancer (6).
Another test-tube study looked at the effects of another isolated elecampane compound — eudesmane sesquiterpenoid — on leukemia cells. The authors observed its potential to promote cancer cell death (
Elecampane extracts also appear to affect breast cancer cells. One test-tube study found that sesquiterpene lactones had promising anticancer activity on breast tumors, inhibiting certain pathways involved in cancer cell activation (
Similarly, another test-tube study observed the anticancer activity of alantolactone, an isolated sesquiterpene lactone compound in elecampane. The compound appeared to promote breast cancer cell death (
May help improve respiratory health
Elecampane root has a long history of use in the reduction of cough and respiratory-related conditions like rhinitis, bronchitis, and throat infections, particularly in folk medicine (
One test-tube study found that alantolactone isolated from elecampane suppressed airway inflammation resulting from cigarette smoke exposure, as well as helped open airways (
The authors even suggested alantolactone as a potential therapy in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a chronic inflammatory lung disease that often results from smoking and makes it difficult to breathe (
What’s more, test-tube research has observed that elecampane can slow white blood cell activity and reduce inflammation in respiratory conditions (
One study gave children who had an acute cough an elecampane-containing cough suppressant for 8 days. The researchers found it was safe and reduced cough severity and duration compared with a placebo (
However, the cough suppressant contained several ingredients, not just elecampane root, so it’s impossible to know how elecampane root alone influenced the study outcome.
Scientists need to do more high quality research on the effects of elecampane root on respiratory health in humans.
May have antimicrobial properties
Researchers have also studied elecampane root extracts for their potential antibacterial and antifungal activity.
One test-tube study found that compounds in elecampane extract were active against the bacteria Staphylococcus. The authors even suggested further research into its applications in the setting of antibiotic-resistant infectious diseases (
Other test-tube studies have also observed elecampane root was effective against Staphylococcus, likely by damaging the membrane of bacterial cells and causing them to die (
Other laboratory research has found that elecampane extracts may fight Mycobacterium tuberculosis, the bacteria that cause the respiratory illness tuberculosis. They may also suppress Candida, a species of yeast that can cause opportunistic fungal infections (
Elecampane root’s uses in folk medicine aren’t backed by scientific evidence. Still, recent research suggests that it may have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anticancer, and antimicrobial effects, as well as potentially benefit respiratory health.
When taken orally in most standard doses, elecampane root is considered to be generally safe for most people.
However, there’s some concern that herbs from the Inula genus could interfere with blood pressure and blood sugar management. This could be problematic for people with diabetes or those who take blood-pressure-lowering medications (
One review suggested that the sesquiterpene lactone compounds in elecampane root could trigger a systemic allergic reaction among people with a sensitivity to plants in the Compositae family (
Scientists need to do more research, particularly on the oral ingestion of elecampane. However, recent and older studies have noted similar allergic concerns related to skin exposure to products that contain Compositae plants (
Some anecdotal sources state that people should not use elecampane root in conjunction with sleeping medications due to potential interactions, but scientific data is lacking. Still, as with any herbal supplement, it’s best to exercise caution.
Furthermore, people who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid elecampane root due to the lack of research on its safety.
People on medications for blood pressure or blood sugar management, those who have a sensitivity to Compositae plants, and people who are pregnant or breastfeeding should avoid elecampane root.
People only use the root of the elecampane plant medicinally.
Stores typically sell elecampane root as a dried powder, liquid extract, and loose tea. You can also purchase dried, cut pieces of root to grind into a powder yourself or boil and make into a hot tea.
Supplemental doses of elecampane root vary significantly. Products that are currently available suggest taking approximately 1/4–1/2 teaspoon (0.5–1 gram) of elecampane per day.
However, there’s a lack of scientific evidence on dosing, so scientists cannot recommend a standard dosage for general consumer use.
It’s best to speak with your healthcare provider to determine whether you can safely add elecampane root to your regimen.
Stores sell elecampane root dried whole or powdered, as a liquid extract, or a loose tea. Dosing varies widely, and there’s no standard. It’s best to speak with your healthcare provider to determine what’s safe for you.
Elecampane root is an herbal supplement that’s native to Europe and has a long history of use in Traditional Chinese Medicine.
Available research suggests that extracts of elecampane root and other Inula species have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and even potential anticancer properties. Elecampane root also contains compounds that may benefit respiratory health and suppress coughing.
You can buy elecampane root supplements in dried and powdered form, liquid droppers, and teas. However, scientists need to do more human research to determine its safety, effectiveness, and standard dosing.