Inula Helenium for Respiration & Digestion
As the glorious summer wanes into autumn, we feel a shift of energy, climate, and diet. We move from the summer heat and a period of expansion and growth to cooler weather and time for introspection and contraction. We herbalists and doctors recommend that those in our care take steps to protect their respiratory system and lungs during this time. We suggest eating more root vegetables and cooked foods, protecting the neck with a scarf to help ward off any cold wind from entering through the neck, and especially for those prone to respiratory tract issues, using herbs and teas to support the respiratory system ahead of cold and flu season.
One of my absolute favourite herbs for many respiratory concerns is Inula helenium, which also has the added action of tonification of the digestive system. This tall perennial plant with beautiful, large yellow flowers that are thought to be the result of Helen of Troy’s tears has long been prized for its healing powers. When first introduced to North America by the Europeans, it was mainly relied upon for healing skin diseases in animals, hence the folk name, scabweed.
(Helenium grandiflora, Aster officinalis, Aster helenium)
Common name: Elecampane, scabwort, yellow starwort, horseheal
Parts used: Roots and rhizomes, dried
Taste: Sweet, bitter, pungent, spicy, sharp
Energy: Warm and dry
Active constituents: Sesquiterpene lactones, especially alantolactone and derivatives, triterpenoid saponins, sterols (sitosterol, stigmasterol), inulin (up to 44% in autumn and 20% in spring)
Respiratory Antibacterial, antitussive, demulcent, pulmonary tonic, stimulating expectorant, anti-inflammatory
Digestive Anthelmintic, stomachic (bitter tonic), liver tonic, alterative, anti-inflammatory
Immune Diaphoretic, immunostimulant
Inula helenium is a superlative herb for all lung conditions with mucous, both acute and chronic, as it clears it from the chest and reduces the production. Part of the function of mucous in the respiratory tract is to trap particles and protect the underlying membranes from outside invasion. The lungs innately want to expel the mucous as a defence mechanism through a process of mucociliary clearance (or elevator) that relies on the specialized cells lining the nose and throat. These cells have tiny projections called cilia extending from them that are in constant motion, moving mucous towards the esophagus to be swallowed, and then sterilized, by the stomach. When a person is healthy, this mechanism works perfectly, but when there is a change in the consistency of the mucous, this mechanism cannot function efficiently. Elecampane has a stimulating effect on the mucociliary escalator: the saponins dissolve mucous and stimulate the bronchial structures by reflex from their (mildly) irritating detergent effect on the stomach wall and the soothing inulin sugar, containing mucilage, helps to mitigate this slight irritation.
Inula helenium is good for dry or wet lungs. It gets moisture to move. The root is pleasantly aromatic and opens the pores for the secretion of thinner fluids. As an antibacterial, it helps to clear thick, glue-like mucous and moves the digestive system.
- Chronic cough and asthma, particularly humid asthma with white phlegm
- Chronic bronchitis in elderly
- Acute bronchitis, especially in children where cough cannot bring up mucous, but it is swallowed and causes indigestion
- Chronic postnasal drip with thick yellow or green mucous
- Shallow breathing, sighing, and shortness of breath
- Persistent cough with sub-sternal pain
- Pneumonia, particularly when wanting to cough because of fluid build-up
- Tuberculosis, particularly on the tuberculosis bacillus, as an adjunct to antibiotics¹
Due to its stimulating action on moving mucous in the body, Inula helenium also has a supportive role in the digestive tract, particularly when there is weakness of the digestive organs. Signs of this include a lack of appetite, mucous in the digestive tract, a feeling like food is stuck in the digestive tract (stagnation), excess gas, and a thick white coating on the tongue. Elecampane stimulates, warms, aids in the movement of digestion, and helps to establish a restored, vital terrain. It also contains a high percentage of prebiotic inulin sugars (44 percent in the fresh autumn root), an undigestible compound that our body uses for energy to maintain a healthy gut flora. The high inulin content is also beneficial for those with blood sugar issues, as it slows down metabolism, reducing harmful glucose spikes that contribute to metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.
- Poor assimilation
- Loss of appetite
- Poor lymphoid tissue in gut
- Gastric atonicity
- Catarrhal conditions of the mucosa
- Pain in side from swollen spleen
Tincture: 1:5, 3-5 ml, 3x daily
Tea: Pour 1 cup cold water onto 1 tsp of shredded Elecampane root. Let stand for 8–10 hours. Heat up and take very hot, 3x daily. Best if used as a tonic herb over a period of more than 6 weeks.
For references visit ecoparent.ca/TWF/SUM21.