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Elecampane (Inula helenium [Latin]), also called wild sunflower scabwort, and horseheal, is a perennial garden flower traditionally used to kill intestinal parasites and treat bronchial congestion. Traditional Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine recommends elecampane for treatment of bronchitis and asthma. Elecampane is also said to improve digestion, and has been used for many years to heal skin infections in horses and sheep.

Elecampane gets its Latin name, Inula helenium, from the legend of Helen of Troy, who was supposed to have carried a bouquet of elecampane with her while being abducted from Sparta. Ancient Greeks and Romans used this herb to treat indigestion, sciatica, bronchitis, asthma, and to ease feelings of melancholy (Helen probably really needed this herb).

Recent studies support the ancient tradition of using elecampane to treat respiratory infections. Elecampane contains inulin, a phytochemical that coats and soothes the lining of the bronchial passages and acts as an expectorant in the body. Inulin helps promote “good” intestinal bacteria, which ensure regular bowel movements. Studies have also shown two other active ingredients in elecampane, alantolactone and isoalantolactone, to be useful in expelling parasites, including roundworm, hookworm, whipworm, and threadworm, from the intestine; this research supports the traditional use of elecampane for healthy digestion and parasitic infection.

Elecampane may also be helpful to patients with cardiovascular disease. Limited research has been conducted in this area, some tests indicate elecampane may help ease stress on the heart caused by shortness of breath, and provide better pain relief than nitroglycerin in some patients with cardiovascular disease. In animal tests conducted in Europe, elecampane was found to lower blood pressure. Of course people with high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease must be under the care of a qualified physician, and should consult their physician before taking elecampane or any other herbal supplement.

Elecampane is available in capsules, tinctures, and teas. There are also commercial preparations of Ayurvedic medicines that contain elecampane as an active ingredient, such as Rasayana and Lipistat. You can also buy the powdered root extract to make elecampane tea—1/4 teaspoon of powdered root in a cup of hot water up to three times a day is the usual dosage. If you make elecampane into a tea, make sure you flavor it with something, since this herb has a bitter taste.

Elecampane could cause allergic skin reactions in some people. People with diabetes should avoid elecampane—some studies have shown that it can have an effect on blood sugar levels in large doses. Women who are pregnant should also avoid this herb, as it has been used traditionally to stimulate uterine contractions. In large doses, elecampane can cause diarrhea, vomiting, cramps, spasms, or even symptoms of paralysis.

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