Elecampane consists of the root and rhizome of Inula Helenium, Linn. (N.O. Compositae), a perennial plant indigenous to Europe and Germany. The roots are collected in the autumn when the plants are two or three years old, and dried, the rhizomes and larger roots being sliced longitudinally to facilitate the drying. The drug consists chiefly of the long, slightly tapering roots, varying in thickness from about 0.5 to 2.0 centimetres, the larger having been longitudinally sliced. The roots are of a light grey colour and hard, horny consistence. They break with a short fracture, and the smoothed transverse surface exhibits an indistinctly radiate wood, separated from the cortex by a darker cambium line. In both wood and cortex, large, scattered, dark brown, shining oil-glands are visible. The rhizome is usually in thin, irregularly rounded slices, 4 or 5 centimetres in diameter. The drug has an agreeable aromatic odour, and aromatic, slightly bitter taste.
Constituents.—On distillation with water, elecampane yields from 1 to 2 per, cent. of a crystalline mass mixed with a little volatile oil. The crystalline portion consists of alantolactone, iso-alantolactone (helenin), and alantolic acid, all of which are crystalline and nearly free from odour and taste. The oily portion, alantol, has a peppermint-like odour. Elecampane root also contains, in the autumn, a large quantity of inulin, which occurs in the drug in the form of transparent, amorphous masses, in the parenchymatous cells of cortex and wood.
Action and Uses.—Elecampane root is not much used in medicine. A decoction (1 in 40), given in doses of 30 to 60 mils (1 to 2 fluid ounces), has been recommended in chronic bronchitis and in tuberculosis. A liquid extract (1 in 1) has also been used. The active bitter principle helenin is stated to be particularly destructive to the tubercle bacillus; and is used in pill form, dose, 3 to 12 centigrams (½ to 2 grains), in bronchitis, tuberculosis, cholera, and diphtheria as a powerful antiseptic.