From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Inula helenium - Köhler–s Medizinal-Pflanzen-210.jpg
1897 illustration [1]
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Tribe: Inuleae
Genus: Inula
Species: I. helenium
Binomial name
Inula helenium
  • Aster helenium (L.) Scop.
  • Aster officinalis All.
  • Corvisartia helenium (L.) Mérat
  • Helenium grandiflorum Gilib.
  • Inula orgyalis Boiss.

Elecampane (/ˌɛlɪkæmˈpn/[3]), Inula helenium, also called horse-heal or marchalan (in Welsh), is a widespread species of plants in the sunflower family. It is native to Europe and Asia from Spain to Xinjiang Province in western China, and naturalized in parts of North America.[4][5][6][7][8]

Other common names include elfdock; aunée (French); helenio, enula campana (Spanish); Echter Alant (German); and enula campana (Italian).[4]


Elecampane is a rather rigid herb, the stem of which attains a height of from 90–150 cm (35–59 in). The leaves are large and toothed, the lower ones stalked, the rest embracing the stem; blades egg-shaped, elliptical, or lance-shaped, as big as 30 cm (12 in) long and 12 cm (4.7 in) wide. Leaves are green on the upper side with light, scattered hairs, but whitish on the underside because of a thick layer of woool. The flower heads up to 5 cm (2 inches) broad, each head containing 50-100 yellow ray flowers and 100-250 yellow disc flowers. The root is thick, branching and mucilaginous, and has a warm, bitter taste and a camphoraceous odor with sweet floral (similar to violet) undertones.[6][8]


The plant's specific name, helenium, derives from Helen of Troy; elecampane is said to have sprung up from where her tears fell. It was sacred to the ancient Celts, and once had the name "elfwort".[9]


In France and Switzerland it is used in the manufacture of absinthe.

The root was employed by the ancients, mentioned in Pliny, Natural History 19.29 both as a medicine and as a condiment, and in England it was formerly in great repute as an aromatic tonic and stimulant of the secretory organs.[citation needed] It is mentioned in an 1817 New-England almanack as a cure for hydrophobia when the root is bruised and used with a strong decoction of milk.[10] It is used in herbal medicine as an expectorant and for water retention.[11]

Chemical constituents[edit]

Besides the storage polysaccharide inulin (C6H12O6[C6H10O5]n), a polymer of fructose, the root contains helenin (C15H20O2), a stearoptene, which may be prepared in white acicular crystals, insoluble in water, but freely soluble in alcohol. When freed from the accompanying inula-camphor by repeated crystallization from alcohol, helenin melts at 110 °C.


  1. ^ illustration from Franz Eugen Köhler, Köhler's Medizinal-Pflanzen, 1897
  2. ^ The Plant List, Inula helenium L.
  3. ^ Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. 
  4. ^ a b B.-E. van Wyk and M. Wink. (2004). Medicinal Plants of the World, p. 181, Singapore: Times Editions.
  5. ^ Altervista Flora Italiana, Inula helenium L. includes photos and European distribution map
  6. ^ a b Flora of North America, Inula helenium Linnaeus, 1753.
  7. ^ Biota of North America Program 2014 county distribution map
  8. ^ a b Flora of China, Inula helenium Linnaeus, 1753. 土木香 tu mu xiang
  9. ^ Howard, Michael (1987). Traditional Folk Remedies. Century. p. 135. ISBN 0-7126-1731-0. 
  10. ^ Daboll, N. (1816). The New-England almanack, for the year of our Lord Christ, 1817: Fitted to the meridian of N. London. New London: Samuel Green. 
  11. ^ Bartram, T. (1998). Bartram’s Encyclopedia of Herbal Medicine. London: Robinson Publishing Ltd. ISBN 978-1854875860. 

Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. 

External links[edit]