In medical herbalism we know herbs have an affinity for certain areas of the body, and an ability to have an affect on certain body systems. Inula helenium, as it is known by its formal name, is a common herb in the Western herbal mediciary. Most herbalists are familiar with Elecampane as a lung tonic for things like cough, asthma and bronchitis. It has an affinity for the lungs and acts as a lung tonic and expectorant. What many people, and even herbalists, do not know is that it also has an affinity for the stomach and intestines, is beneficial for things like diarrhea and nausea, and has both anti-microbial as well as anti-parasitic qualities.
Inula is a genus in the Asteraceae family, with 100 species native to Europe, Asia and Africa. There are 17 species native to China, 9 of which are used as medicine. Most commonly it was used to help prevent colic and skin problems in horses and sheep, who ate it when it grew wild in damp, shady pastures. Wild sunflower, as it was known, grew commonly in Europe and was brought to North America by immigrants.
Most commonly used to treat bronchial congestion, the leaf and flower are astringent and anti-microbial while the root is mucilaginous and a bitter tonic that is used to aid digestion. It is a cholagogue, so it aids in the expulsion of bile, an anti-parasitic, known to treat intestinal worms including hookworm, roundworm, threadworm and whipworm.
Elecampane’s ability to clear heat and transform toxins is more commonly known in Chinese medicine, and that is how we often use it in the treatment of chronic disease. In chronic disease toxins are a huge problem. A variety of pathogens are often part of the picture, whether from parasites, a scary word in medicine and often not acknowledged, bacteria, fungus or viruses, the effects of these infections over the long term can lead to a build up of biotoxins in the body. Often the effects of which include impairing the lymph, toxifying the blood, putting the body into sympathetic overdrive, leading to overall dysregulation of multiple systems in the body. The overall effects of which can be disastrous. There are several steps involved in healing from chronic illness, one of the main ones being detoxification. The main organs of detoxification include the lungs, liver and kidney. The lungs in fact, play a great role in ridding the body of waste.
In Chinese medicine, abundant lung energy manifests as strong physical vitality. In conditions of dysfunction, the lung is either weak or obstructed. Weak lung energy will manifest as low vitality and a poor immune system. Skin is often affected, appearing dull and dry, and circulation of Qi and blood is impaired. Inflammation is often a huge component of chronic illness as well, whether from chronic infection, poor lymph drainage, increased food sensitivities etc. In Chinese medicine this is referred to as the spleen, and the spleen is considered the producer of phlegm. The lung, by comparison, is considered the container.
As the container of phlegm, the lung ends up housing much of the chronic inflammation in the body. Therefore, a primary detoxifying organ becomes very quickly affected, and detoxification significantly compromised. As a primary focus in the healing of chronic disease, we try to move phlegm, improve detox, kill the pathogens and reregulate the system. By way of its anti-microbial, anti-parasitic properties, affinity for supporting and tonifying the lung ability to clear phlegm, Elecampane is a very important herb in the treatment of chronic illness.