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Elecampane
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
L.

Elecampane, also called Horse-heal (Inula helenium) or Marchalan (in Welsh), is a perennial composite plant common in many parts of Great Britain, and ranges throughout central and Southern Europe, and in Asia as far eastwards as the Himalayas.

It is a rather rigid herb, the stem of which attains a height of from 3 to 5 feet; the leaves are large and toothed, the lower ones stalked, the rest embracing the stem; the flowers are yellow, 2 inches broad, and have many rays, each three-notched at the extremity. The root is thick, branching and mucilaginous, and has a warm, bitter taste and a camphoraceous odor.

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

Contents

Medical use

For medicinal purposes, the roots should be procured from plants not more than two or three years old. Besides inulin (C6H12O6[C6H10O 5]n), a body isomeric with starch, 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.

Recent science

Susan O'Shea, a research student at Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), Ireland, has shown that extracts from the herb kill methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) as well as a broad spectrum of other bacteria.[1]

Folklore

Inule helenium.jpg

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".[2]

Herbalism

The root was employed by the ancients 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. As a drug, however, the root is now seldom resorted to except in veterinary practice, though it is undoubtedly possessed of antiseptic properties.

John Gerard recommended elecampane for "the shortness of breath"; today herbalists prescribe it as an expectorant and for water retention; it also is claimed to have antiseptic properties. It has minor applications as a tonic and to bring on menstruation.[2]

References

This article incorporates text from the Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, a publication now in the public domain.


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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From LoveToKnow 1911

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