Elecampane — Inula species used in Chinese Medicine

Welcome back to Plants as Medicine. It is snowing here in Beijing for the third time this year and I am hard at work designing a learning garden that will be dedicated to Autumn Reine. We will have a large variety of plants, primarily medicinal, from China and as much of the rest of the world as we can.

Inula britannica

But today, spurred by some comments recently about Elecampane and the use of the Inula genus in Chinese medicine I will give you a little information about the different species and how they are used in Chinese medicine. Inula is a genus in the Asteraceae family with about 100 species native to Europe, Asia, and Africa. There are 17 species in China with 3 endemics, at least 9 of these are used as medicine.

Most Chinese herbalists are familiar with xuan fu hua (旋复花), (pictured above), which is represented by 2 species, I. japonica and I. britanica. These species (the flowers) are used treat phlegm and coughing, as well as retching. However the other 7 species are less known to most Chinese herbalists, particularly in the West.

Inula helenium

One of these species is I. helenium (tu mu xiang 土木香), which is known as elecampane in Western herbal medicine. A complete monograph of this medicinal can be found in my first book, Western Herbs According to Traditional Chinese Medicine: A Practitioner’s Guide.

Inula cappa (bai niu dan 白牛胆), which may not actually be part of this genus according to botanical records but is listed in the Chinese literature as such. The entire plant is used medicinally and is considered acrid, sweet, slightly bitter and warm. It is used to expel wind and disperse cold, move qi and disinhibit dampness, and resolve toxins and resolve swelling. It is used for a variety of ailments including common cold, cough, wind-dampness impediment pain, diarrhea, water swelling, white vaginal discharge, etc.

Inula helianthus-aquatica (shui chao yang cao 水朝阳草) is found in the South and Southwest of China. The entire plant is used and is considered acrid, sweet, and warm. It expels wind-dampness, mend sinew and bone, stop bleeding, and resolve toxin. It is used for wind-dampness pain, broken bones, external injury with bleeding, and clove sores with toxic swelling.

Inula linariifolia (jin fei cao 金沸草) is a medicine first found in the Shen Nong Ben Cao Jing. This species grows throughout much of Central and Eastern China, north into Russia, Korea and even in Japan. Along with this species both I. japnica and I. britanica are used as this medicine. The above ground portion of the plant are used and considered salty and warm, entering the lung and large intestine channels. It dispels wind-cold, transforms phlegm, stops coughing, and disperses swelling. It is used for wind-cold cough, phlegm panting, clove sores with swelling toxicity, and wind-dampness pain.

Inula nervosa (cao wei ling 草威灵) grows in the South and Southwestern parts of China, the root is used in medicine. It is considered acrid, bitter, and warm. It expels wind-dampness, frees the channels and collaterals, and disperses accumulation and stops pain. It is used for wind-dampness pain, lower abdominal cold pain, food accumulation with abdominal fullness, dysphagia-occlusion (difficulty swallowing because of throat blockage), and wind-dampness foot-qi.

Inula pterocaula (da hei yao 大黑要) is found in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces of China, the root is used. It is considered bitter and neutral. It supplements vacuity, clears heat, and stops cough. It is used for vacuity with dizziness, tinnitus, easily flustered, insomnia, vacuity sweating, lung vacuity with chronic cough, welling abscess with toxic swelling, and tuberculosis of the bones.

Inula salsoloides (sha xuan fu hua 沙旋复花) grows throughout most of Northern China, the herb or flower are used. It is considered bitter, acrid, and cold. It clears heat and transforms toxin, and disinhibits dampness. It is used for external invasions with head ache, intestinal inflammation, dysenteric disorders, breast swelling, inhibited urination, toxic sores and swollen welling abscesses, yellow water sore (impetigo), and eczema.

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