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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
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
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 take?
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
Other Resources :
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- 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,
- Carabin IG, Flamm WG. Evaluation of safety
of inulin and oligofructose as dietary fiber. Regul Toxicol
- 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, 9123.
- Pazzaglia M, et al. Contact dermatitis
due to a massage liniment containing inula helenium extract.
Contact Dermatitis Oct 1995;61:267.