Elecampane is indigenous to Europe and Asia and is now grown in the United States. The dried roots and rhizomes (branching part of the root) are collected in fall or early winter and used in herbal preparations.
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3 StarsReliable and relatively consistent scientific data showing a substantial health benefit.
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1 StarFor an herb, supported by traditional use but minimal or no scientific evidence. For a supplement, little scientific support.
This supplement has been used in connection with the following health conditions:
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Traditionally, herbs that have a soothing action on bronchioles are also used for asthma. These include marshmallow, mullein, hyssop, and licorice. Elecampane has been used traditionally to treat coughs associated with asthma.2
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Elecampane is a demulcent (soothing herb) that has been used to treat coughs associated with bronchitis, asthma, and whooping cough. Although there have been no modern clinical studies with this herb, its use for these indications is based on its high content of soothing mucilage in the forms of inulin and alantalactone.3 However, the German Commission E monograph for elecampane does not approve the herb for bronchitis.4
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
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Mullein is classified in the herbal literature as both an expectorant, to promote the discharge of mucus, and a demulcent, to soothe and protect mucous membranes. Historically, mullein has been used as a remedy for the respiratory tract, particularly in cases of irritating coughs with bronchial congestion.5 Other herbs commonly used as expectorants in traditional medicine include elecampane, lobelia, yerba santa (Eriodictyon californicum),wild cherry bark, gumweed (Grindelia robusta),anise(Pimpinella anisum), and eucalyptus. Animal studies have suggested that some of these herbs increase discharge of mucus.6 However, none have been studied for efficacy in humans.
Bitter herbs are thought to stimulate digestive function by increasing saliva production and promoting both stomach acid and digestive enzyme production.7 As a result, they are particularly used when there is low stomach acid but not in heartburn (where too much stomach acid could initially exacerbate the situation). These herbs literally taste bitter. Some examples of bitter herbs include greater celandine, wormwood, gentian,dandelion, blessed thistle, yarrow, devil’s claw, bitter orange, bitter melon, juniper, andrographis, prickly ash, and centaury.8. Bitters are generally taken either by mixing 1–3 ml tincture into water and sipping slowly 10–30 minutes before eating, or by making tea, which is also sipped slowly before eating.
Horehound contains a number of constituents, including alkaloids, flavonoids, diterpenes (e.g., marrubiin), and trace amounts of volatile oils.9 The major active constituent marrubiin and possibly its precursor, premarrubiin, are herbal bitters that increase the flow of saliva and gastric juice, thereby stimulating the appetite.10 Similar to horehound, elecampane has been used by herbalists to treat people with indigestion.
Carminatives (also called aromatic digestive tonics or aromatic bitters) may be used to relieve symptoms of indigestion, particularly when there is excessive gas. It is believed that carminative agents work, at least in part, by relieving spasms in the intestinal tract.11
Traditional Use (May Not Be Supported by Scientific Studies)
Traditionally, herbalists have used elecampane to treat coughs, particularly those associated with bronchitis, asthma, and whooping cough.1 The herb has also been used historically to treat poor digestion and general complaints of the intestinal tract.
How It Works
How It Works
Elecampane root and rhizome contain approximately 1–4% volatile oils.12 Most of these volatile oils are composed of sesquiterpene lactones, including alantolactone. Elecampane is also very high in inulin (44%)13 and mucilage. Most herbal texts attribute the actions of elecampane to alantolactone.14 The antitussive (cough prevention and treatment) and carminative (soothing effect on the intestinal tract) effects of elecampane, however, may possibly be due to the inulin and mucilage content. Isolated alantolactone has been used to treat parasites (e.g., roundworm, threadworm, hookworm, whipworm). This use is only by prescription and is not approved in all European countries.15
How to Use It
The German Commission E Monograph states the historical application of elecampane has not been adequately proven to recommend its use.16 This is partially based on the potential side effects listed below. For traditional use, elecampane is typically recommended as a tea. Boiling water is poured over 1/4 teaspoon (1 gram) of the ground root and rhizome, left to steep for ten to fifteen minutes, then strained. One cup of this preparation is taken three to four times daily. Some texts recommend 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (3–5 ml) of a tincture three times daily.17
Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds
At the time of writing, there were no well-known supplement or food interactions with this supplement.
Interactions with Medicines
As of the last update, we found no reported interactions between this supplement and medicines. It is possible that unknown interactions exist. If you take medication, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a new supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.
The Drug-Nutrient Interactions table may not include every possible interaction. Taking medicines with meals, on an empty stomach, or with alcohol may influence their effects. For details, refer to the manufacturers’ package information as these are not covered in this table. If you take medications, always discuss the potential risks and benefits of adding a supplement with your doctor or pharmacist.
The inulin in elecampane root is widely distributed in fruits, vegetables and plants. It is classified as a food ingredient (not as an additive) and is considered safe to eat.18 In fact, inulin is a significant part of the daily diet of most of the world’s population.19 However, there is a report of a 39-year-old man having a life-threatening allergic reaction after consuming high amounts of inulin from multiple sources.20 Allergy to inulin in this individual was confirmed by laboratory tests. Such sensitivities are extremely rare. Moreover, this man did not take elecampane. Nevertheless, people with a confirmed sensitivity to inulin should avoid elecampane.
Alantolactone can be an irritant to the intestinal tract and, along with other sesquiterpene lactones in elecampane, may cause localized irritation in the mouth. Amounts several times higher than those stated above may cause vomiting, diarrhea, spasms, and signs of paralysis.21 If these symptoms occur, people should contact their local poison control center. Pregnant or nursing women should not use elecampane.
8. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 425–6.
9. Leung AY, Foster S. Encyclopedia of Common Natural Ingredients Used in Food, Drugs, and Cosmetics, 2d ed. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1996, 303.
10. Bradley PR. British Herbal Compendium, vol. 1. Great Britain: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1990, 218–9.
11. Forster HB, Niklas H, Lutz S. Antispasmodic effects of some medicinal plants. Planta Med 1980;40:303–19.
12. Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994, 254–6.
13. Duke, JA. Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS Herbs and Other Economic Plants. Boca Raton, FL; CRC Press, 1992.
14. Wichtl M. Herbal Drugs and Phytopharmaceuticals. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1994, 254–6.
15. Newall CA, Anderson LA, Phillipson JD. Herbal Medicines: A Guide for Health-Care Professionals. London: The Pharmaceutical Press, 1996, 106–7.
16. Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 328–9.
17. Bradley PR (ed). British Herbal Compendium, vol. 1. Bournemouth, England: British Herbal Medicine Association, 1992, 87–8.
18. Carabin IG, Flamm WG. Evaluation of safety of inulin and oligofructose as dietary fiber. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 1999;30:268–82 [review].
19. Coussement PA. Inulin and oligofructose: safe intakes and legal status. J Nutr 1999;129:1412S–7S [review].
20. Gay-Crosier F, Schreiber G, Hauser C. Anaphylaxis from inulin in vegetables and processed food. N Engl J Med 2000;342:1372 [letter].
21. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, et al. (eds). PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics, 1998, 912–3.
The information presented in Aisle7 is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2014.
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