Herbs & Botanicals
Inula (xuan fu hua)
What is inula?
Inula, also known as elecampane, is a yellowish flower similar to a dandelion
in appearance. It is a thick, sturdy plant found throughout Asia; in some
areas, it can reach a height of six feet. A perennial plant, the medicinal
parts of inula are its roots and rhizomes, which are collected in the
early fall or winter for herbal preparations. The rhizome has a strong
odor and a bitter, pungent taste.
Why do we need inula? What is it used for?
Inula roots and rhizomes contain a volatile oil that consists of several
chemical compounds, most notably esquiterpene lactones (including alantolactone),
inulin and mucilage. Many scientists feel the mucilage and inulin content
may be responsible for the plant's healing properties.
Traditionally, herbalists have used elecampane to treat coughs, particularly
those associated with bronchitis, asthma, and whooping cough. It has also
been used historically to treat poor digestion and general intestinal
disorders; however, there is little scientific evidence to justify its
uses for these conditions.
In traditional Chinese medicine, inula is used to remove obstruction
and dissolve phlegm sometimes seen with a stuffy chest, cough or shortness
of breath. It is also used in combination with other herbs to treat excess
belching that may be caused by a deficiency of qi in the spleen or stomach.
How much inula should I take?
The German Commission E monograph states that the historical application
of inula been adequately proven to recommend its use, based in part on
its known side-effects if taken in large doses. Traditionally, inula is
consumed as a tea by pouring boiled water over 1/2 teaspoon of ground
root, leaving the mixture to steep in water for 10-15 minutes, then straining
out the root. One cup of this tea is taken 3-4 times a day. Some herbalists
recommend taking 1/2 - 1 teaspoon of an inula tincture three times daily.
What forms of inula are available?
Inula is available in dried root and rhizome forms, extracts and teas.
It should be stored in a cool place, protected from light, and should
not be stored in plastic containers.
What can happen if I take too much inula? Are
there any interactions I should be aware of? What precautions should I
The lactones in inula, in particular alantolactone, can irritate the
body's mucous membranes and intestinal tract. Taking excessive amounts
of the herb can lead to vomiting, diarrhea, spasms and paralysis. If these
symptoms occur, people should contact a poison control center. Women who
are pregnant or nursing should not take inula. There are no well-known
drug interactions with inula.
- Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds).
The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to
Herbal Medicines. Austin: American Botanical Council and Boston:
Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 3289.
- Carabin IG, Flamm WG. Evaluation of safety of inulin
and oligofructose as dietary fiber. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 1999;30:26882.
- Gay-Crosier F, Schreiber G, Hauser C. Anaphylaxis
from inulin in vegetables and processed food. N Engl J Med 2000;342:1372.
- Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, et al. (eds).
PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics, 1998,
- Pazzaglia M, et al. Contact dermatitis due to a massage
liniment containing inula helenium extract. Contact Dermatitis