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What we now about Wild Sunflower

Scientific Name: Elecampane

Other Names: Alant, Elf Dock, Elfwort, Horse-elder, Horseheal, Inula helenium, Pushkarmoola, Scabwort, Velvet Dock, Wild Sunflower, Yellow Starwort

Who is this for?

Traditionally, elecampane has been taken to treat respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis because chemicals in it cause mucus to become thinner. Consequently, congestion in the lungs may be lessened and the elimination of excess mucus may be easier. Elecampane may also help to decrease coughing.

Because it contains mucilage, elecampane has been used to relieve gastrointestinal irritation, as well. Mucilage is a natural gummy substance that does not dissolve in water, but forms a thick, gooey mass when exposed to fluids. Like other mucilage-containing substances, elecampane swells up and becomes slick when it is exposed to fluids. The resulting slippery material coats and soothes irritated tissue in the mouth, throat, stomach, or intestines.

Elecampane is a source of inulin (also known as fructosan), a carbohydrate-based fiber that is broken down and absorbed in the colon instead of in the upper digestive tract where most other foods are digested. Also unlike most other carbohydrates, which are converted to glycogen and stored temporarily in the liver, inulin is converted into fatty acids that spread out to many different tissues in the body. Inulin is often substituted for other carbohydrates in food products for individuals with diabetes because it provides a sweet taste without causing drastic changes in blood sugar levels. It may have a general lowering effect on blood sugar levels, as well. Additionally, inulin is thought to protect beneficial bacteria in the colon while suppressing harmful bacteria. Therefore inulin may help prevent bowel diseases, including colon cancer. However, research in humans is limited for this possible use.

When should I be careful taking it?

Very little information is available on how elecampane might affect a developing fetus, an infant, or a small child. Therefore, its use is not recommended during pregnancy, while breast-feeding, or during early childhood.

Because elecampane possibly may reduce blood sugar levels, individuals with diabetes should be careful when taking it. Blood sugar levels may need to be checked more often.

Results from a few animal studies suggest that elecampane may lower blood pressure slightly. Individuals who take drugs to reduce high blood pressure may want to monitor their blood pressure more often, if they take elecampane.

Elecampane belongs to the same family of plants that also includes chrysanthemums, daisies, and ragweed. Individuals who are sensitive to any of these types of plants may also be sensitive to elecampane.

What side effects should I watch for?

Reportedly, muscle spasms and paralysis have occurred after single elecampane doses of over 6,000 mg (6 grams) were taken.

If elecampane is taken at the same time as drugs that lower blood pressure, a condition called hypotension may result. Hypotension, or blood pressure that is too low, may not have any symptoms, but it may produce blurred vision, confusion, dizziness, or fainting.

Less Severe Side Effects

Other side effects associated with taking elecampane include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Stomach Cramps
  • Vomiting

What interactions should I watch for?

Prescription Drugs

When elecampane is used with prescription drugs that promote sleepiness, the effects of the drug may be exaggerated, resulting in sedation or mental impairment. Prescription drugs that can cause sleepiness include:

  • Anticonvulsants such as carbamazepine, phenytoin and valproic acid
  • Barbiturates such as phenobarbital)
  • Benzodiazepines such as alprazolam and diazepam
  • Drugs for insomnia such as zaleplon and zolpidem
  • Tricyclic antidepressants such as amitriptyline, amoxapine, doxepin and nortriptyline

Elecampane may increase the blood sugar lowering effects of insulin and oral drugs for diabetes, such as:

  • Actos
  • Amaryl
  • Avandia
  • glipizide (Glucotrol XL)
  • glyburide (Glynase)
  • Glyset
  • metformin (Glucophage)
  • Prandin
  • Precose

Due to its possible ability to lower blood pressure, elecampane is believed to increase the effects of drugs that also lower blood pressure. Some blood pressure-lowering drugs include:

  • ACE inhibitors such as captopril, enalapril, lisinopril, and Monopril
  • Beta blockers such as atenolol, metoprolol, and propranolol
  • Calcium channel blockers such as nifedipine, Norvasc, and verapamil
  • Diuretics such as Dyazide, furosemide, and hydrochlorothiazide

Non-prescription Drugs

The sleep-producing effects of over-the-counter products containing diphenhydramine can be enhanced by taking elecampane at the same time. Diphenhydramine is contained in many non-prescription sleeping pills as well as in some cough and cold products, therefore caution should be used when taking these medications with elecampane because excessive drowsiness may result.

Herbal Products

Elecampane may cause excessive sedation if it is taken with other potentially sedating herbs such as:

  • Catnip
  • Hops
  • Kava
  • St. John's Wort
  • Valerian

Because elecampane may decrease blood sugar levels, taking it with other blood sugar-lowering herbal products may result in hypoglycemia — blood sugar that is too low. Herbals that may reduce blood sugar include:

  • Eleuthero
  • Fenugreek
  • Ginger (in high amounts)
  • Kudzu
  • Panax ginseng

Foods

No interactions between elecampane and foods have been reported, but drinking alcohol at the same time as using elecampane by mouth may result in increased drowsiness.

Some interactions between herbal products and medications can be more severe than others. The best way for you to avoid harmful interactions is to tell your doctor and/or pharmacist what medications you are currently taking, including any over-the-counter products, vitamins, and herbals.

Should I take it?

Elecampane is a large plant — generally about 5 feet in height — easily recognized by flowers that resemble small sunflowers and that bloom nearly all summer. Believed to be a native of Europe and western Asia, elecampane now grows wild in most mild climate areas, including eastern North America. It is grown commercially on farms in China and parts of Eastern Europe.

Although it is a perennial plant, elecampane does not send out a stem until the second year of growth. During the first year, only a cluster of large dark green "root" leaves forms close to the ground. A thick stalk develops in the second year and re-appears each spring that the plant lives after that. Elecampane has seeds, but the plants multiply mainly through rhizomes — fleshy extensions of their stems that run along or under the ground and often produce shoots and roots for new plants. For use in medicine and manufacturing, elecampane's rhizomes and roots are collected in the autumn after the stems and leaves of 2 or 3 year old plants have died. Older roots and rhizomes are generally too large and dense to be useful. Once they have been dried and shredded or powdered, elecampane roots and rhizomes are used for medicine or to flavor beverages and pharmaceuticals. In some parts of the world, pieces of fresh elecampane root are boiled in syrup and eaten as candy. Elecampane may also be used in cosmetics and perfumes. In Europe, one of the chemicals found in elecampane is a prescription drug used for treating intestinal worms.

Dosage and Administration

For coughing, a commonly recommended dose is one cup of elecampane tea up to four times a day. Elecampane tea may be made by soaking 1,500 mg to 4,000 mg (1.5 grams to 4 grms or about one-fourth of a teaspoon to one teaspoon) of dried, powdered elecampane root in about 5 ounces of boiling water for 5 to 10 minutes and then straining out the solid particles before drinking the tea. Due to its strongly bitter taste, elecampane tea is often sweetened or flavored before drinking.

Elecampane is often included in herbal blends and it is also available by itself in dosage forms that include capsules and extracts. Extracts are concentrated liquid preparations usually made by soaking chopped or mashed plant parts in a liquid such as alcohol, and then straining out the solid parts. Each of these products has different directions for use. If you decide to take elecampane or a combination containing it, follow the instructions on the package you purchase.

Summary

Elecampane contains chemicals that thin mucus and reduce coughing, making it potentially useful for respiratory conditions such as asthma. Due to the soothing effect of the mucilage it contains, elecampane may also be used to relieve gastrointestinal ailments including sore throats and stomach irritation. Inulin, a soluble fiber in elecampane, may be effective for regulating blood sugar levels and helping to prevent diseases of the colon.

Risks

Due to a lack of information on elecampane's possible effects, pregnant and breast-feeding women, and small children are advised to avoid taking it. Diabetes and high blood pressure may need to be monitored more closely if elecampane is taken by individuals who have those conditions. Individuals allergic to plants in the daisy family may also be allergic to elecampane.

Side Effects

A very large dose of elecampane is believed to have resulted in muscle spasms and paralysis. Other side effects possibly related to its use include dizziness and stomach upset.

Interactions

Elecampane may enhance the effects of drugs and herbal products that lower blood sugar or blood pressure levels. It may also increase drowsiness associated with certain drugs and other herbs.

References

Al-Gammal SY. Elecampane and Job's disease. Bulletin of the Indian Institute of Historical Medicine at Hyderabad. 1998;28(1):7-11.

Cantrell CL, Abate L, Fronczek FR, Franzblau SG, Quijano L, Fischer NH. Antimycobacterial eudesmanolides from Inula helenium and Rudbeckia subtomentosa. Planta Medica. 1999;65(4):351-355.

Carabin IG, Flamm WG. Evaluation of safety of inulin and oligofructose as dietary fiber. Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology. 1999;30(3):268-282.

Flamm G, Glinsmann W, Kritchevsky D, Prosky L, Roberfroid M. Inulin and oligofructose as dietary fiber: a review of the evidence. Critical Review of Food Science and Nutrition. 2001;41(5):353-362.

Grieve M. Elecampane. In: A Modern Herbal. New York: Dover Publishers, 1971. Available at: http://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/mgmh.html Posted 1995. Accessed May 27, 2003.

Grizard D, Barthomeuf C. Non-digestible oligosaccharides used as prebiotic agents: mode of production and beneficial effects on animal and human health. Reproductive Nutrition and Development. 1999;39(5-6):563-588.

Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, eds. PDR for Herbal Medicines, 2nd edition. Montvale, NJ:Medical Economics Company, Inc; 2000.

Haughton C. Inula helenium (L). Revised September 23, 2002. Available at: http://www.purplesage.org.uk/profiles/elecampane.htm. Accessed May 27, 2003.

HealthNotes, Inc. Elecampane. 2002. Available at: http://www.mycustompak.com/healthNotes/Herb/Elecampane.htm Accessed May 27, 2003.

Hoffmann DL. Elecampane. Herbal Materia Medica. No date given. Available at: http://www.healthy.net/asp/templates/article.asp?PageType=article&ID=1889. Accessed May 27, 2003.

Jellin JM, Gregory P, Batz F, Hitchens K, et al, eds. Pharmacist's Letter/Prescriber's Letter. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, 3rd Edition. Stockton CA: Therapeutic Research Facility, 2000.

Jenkins DJ, Kendall CW, Vuksan V. Inulin, oligofructose and intestinal function. Journal of Nutrition. 1999;129(Suppl):1431S-1433S.

Konishi T, Shimada Y, Nagao T, Okabe H, Konoshima T. Antiproliferative sesquiterpene lactones from the roots of Inula helenium. Biology and Pharmacology Bulletin. 2002;25(10):1370-1372.

Paulsen E. Contact sensitization from Compositae-containing herbal remedies and cosmetics. Contact Dermatitis. 2002;47(4):189-198.

Paulsen E, Andersen KE, Hausen BM. Sensitization and cross-reaction patterns in Danish Compositae-allergic patients. Contact Dermatitis. 2001;45(4):197-204.

Peirce A. The American Pharmaceutical Association Practical Guide to Natural Medicines. New York: Stonesong Press; 1999.


(Note: The above information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician, pharmacist, or other healthcare professional. It is not meant to indicate that the use of the product is safe, appropriate, or effective for you.)

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