Inula helenium

Daisy & Dandelion Family [Asteraceae]  

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30th Aug 2013, a roadside, West Kent. Photo: © David Meacham
Erect stems to 2.5m high. Leaves with prominent whitish mid-rib.

30th Aug 2013, a roadside, West Kent. Photo: © David Meacham
At first the flowers look similar to a spike, but the flower stalks must grow much longer until all the flowers are at a more or less a similar height.

30th Aug 2013, a roadside, West Kent. Photo: © David Meacham
Stem leaves narrowly cuneate or ovate-cordate, lacking stalks and attached directly to the stem. Leaves hairy on under-side.

30th Aug 2013, a roadside, West Kent. Photo: © David Meacham
Flowers 6 to 9cm across with many yellow, very long and narrow ray florets and a deeper-yellow semi-dome of disc florets in the centre.

30th Aug 2013, a roadside, West Kent. Photo: © David Meacham
The phyllaries are lanceolate to ovate and appressed to the flower (lower left). Stems hairy. Leaf edges crenate-dentate (rather than sharply dentate for Yellow Oxeye (Telekia speciosa).

30th Aug 2013, a roadside, West Kent. Photo: © David Meacham

Some similarities to Yellow Oxeye (Telekia speciosa but which has basal leaves on stalks and which are deeply cordate (heart-shaped).

Uniquely identifiable characteristics: there is no other dandelion-head type flower that is so large as this except perhaps Irish Fleabane.

Distinguishing Feature : the large dandelion-type flower with thin and very long deep yellow ray florets.

Was formerly a medicinal plant used as an expectorant to treat coughs, bronchitis and emphysema. It yields Inulin which some people mistakenly quote as insulin. Inulin is a kind of sugar that is less sweet and does not provoke the same dangerous bodily response to sugar in people with diabetes.


Inulin (not to be confused with Inositol, another 'sugar') is a polysaccharide (or a fructan sugar) that is synthesized by only some plants as a means of storing energy. Those plants that store inulin do not usually store alternative energy sources such as the almost ubiquitous starch. It is only one tenth as sweet and contains only a quarter of the energy value as sugar (sucrose). Because it does not invoke the same reaction by diabetics to sugar it is used as a sweetener by diabetics. Being a tri-saccharide or poly-saccharide it is not digested in the stomach, but by good bacteria in the gut, which leads to gas, similar to eating baked beans which also contain tri-saccharides. Chicory, garlic and leek also contain high levels of inulin.

Inulin is also used medicinally to treat asthma and bronchitis; it is an expectorant ridding the air passages of congestion.


Steam distillation of the roots and rhizomes of Elecampane produces an essential oil that consists primarily of sesquiterpene lactones, such as Alantolactone (aka Helenin, and also previously described as being 'Alantic Acid' until its lactone characteristic was determined), Isoalantolactone (a double-bond isomer of Alantolactone), Isocostunolide and Helenalin (not to be confused with Helenin, mentioned just before), which can cause a contact allergenic response in some people; therefore the oil is not suitable for aromatherapy.

Alantolactone seems to stimulate blood circulation in smaller areas of the body. Isocostunolide induces mitochondrial membrane depolarization and caspase-dependent apoptosis in human melanoma cells.

Helenalin is highly toxic with potent anti-involuntary and anti-tumour properties and may be effective as a treatment for MRSA. Sesquiterpenes are reactive molecules; helenanin can form covalent bonds with proteins containing free SH groups, to the detriment of the organism. When sesquiterpene lactones bind to proteins, they can become antigens, activating antibodies, which go on to cause allergic reactions with further exposure to sesquiterpenes.

The essential oil has been used to flavour bitter alcoholic drinks, such as Vermouths, as well as non-alcoholic drinks, confectionery, baked goods, gelatins and puddings.

Not one of these has approval as a pharmaceutical. Over a 1000 different lactones have been identified in plants of the Daisy family of which Elecampane is a member.

Elecampane also contains a steroidal triterpene saponin Dammaranedienol and some C11 polyynes.

  Inula helenium  ⇐ Global Aspect ⇒ Asteraceae  

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Inula helenium

Daisy & Dandelion Family [Asteraceae]  

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