Horseheal – characteristics, cultivation and use

horseheal with its yellow flower
horseheal with its yellow flower

Horseheal with its large yellow flower heads is native to Anatolia and is widely used today. The roots are used in natural medicine especially against numerous lung complaints. Candied horseheal roots used to be a delicacy, earlier. However, as the plant carries a not insignificant allergy potential, its importance as a kitchen plant has significantly decreased.

Profile of horseheal:

Scientific name: Inula helenium

Plant family: composite, asters (Asteraceae)

Other names: elecampagne, elfdock, elfwort, scabwort

Sowing time / Planting time: April – May

Flowering period: June – September

Harvest time: leaves if necessary.; from second year on between September and mid-December (root)

Useful plant parts: leaves, roots

Location: sunny to partially shaded

Soil quality: nutrient-rich and well-drained soils

These information are for temperate climate!

Use as a medicinal herb: bronchitis, COPD, flu infections, diarrhea, gall bladder, urinary complaints, dry cough, worm infestation

Use as aromatic herb: fatty meat dishes, herbal liqueur

Plant characteristics and classification of horseheal

Occurrence of horseheal

The original homeland of horseheal is today’s Turkey as well as some areas along the Caspian Sea. From there, the plant spread to the Mediterranean, which is why horseheal is often found wild in Spain and southern France. Since the plant has a long tradition as a medicinal herb, it can be found occasionally wild in Central and Western Europe. It is usually found there in partially shaded locations near stinging nettles.

Plant order of horseheal

Horseheal (Inula helenium) belongs to the large daisy family, which includes important medicinal herbs such as dandelion, coltsfoot or calendula The genus of horseheal (Inula) counts more than 100 species, most of which are distributed almost exclusively in Europe, partly also in western Asia and northern Africa.

Characteristics of horseheals


Horseheal is a typical herbaceous and perennial plant with stature heights between 70 and 250 cm (28 in and 8 ft). Typical of the species is the pronounced rhizome, which can be described here as a rhizome. The root system usually has a yellowish brown to creamy-white color and is noticeably branched in all directions. The roots have a distinctive scent when cut.


The leaves of horseheal usually occupy a large surface and can be up to 40 cm long (16 in). The leaves are usually colored light green and have a lanceolate shape. The leaves are often curled upwards. Striking is the dense and felty leaf hair on the underside of the leaves. The greenish to brownish stems are upright with a rough surface and a fine hair farting.


During flowering, which is usually expected between late June to mid-September, horseheal forms showy yellow flower heads. The flower heads can be up to 8 cm wide (3 in). The ligulate flower are usually a little lighter colored than the frequently orange tubular flowers. Each flower consists of five stamens, a stylus and two flower scars.


After flowering, at the time of fruit ripening, the plant form achenes which are typical for members of the daisy family. This is understood as an edgynut fruit that. At the top are several small hairs that serve as a flying organ and are referred to as Pappus.

Horseheal – cultivation and care

The cultivation of horseheal is relatively simple. If a correct location is chosen, the plant can be cultivated with very little care. Many gardeners especially appreciate the magnificent flowers, so that in many gardens quite a few small corners with horseheal can be found.


Horseheal tolerates both sunny and partially shaded locations. Wind protected places should be preferred.


Ideal are nutrient-rich, humus-rich and well-drained soils. Soils that tend to waterlogging should not be considered for cultivation. Sandy soils should be mixed with some bentonite and compost before sowing is considered.


The seeds of the plant should be put in directly in the field in the spring between April and May. Horseheal is a light germ, which is why the seeds should only be pressed into the earth by a maximum of half a centimeter (0.2 in). Pre-culture in February is possible, but not mandatory. If several plants are to be cultivated, a planting distance of at least 35 to 40 cm (41 to 16 in) should be maintained. Too short distances can lead to increased nutrient competition, which can then lead to growth losses and an increased risk of diseases. The germination period is about 12 to 16 days. A cultivation on the balcony is not recommended due to the stature height and the strong root tubers.


Compared to many other herbs, horseheal is considered a rather hungry plant, yet it usually comes out with relatively few nutrients. In the spring before the plant sprouts again, smaller amounts of compost are sufficient. Just before flowering, a small amount of manure or compost can be incorporated again. If neither manure nor compost is available, pelleted long-term fertilizers are also suitable. If the plant is growing on sandy or modified sandy soil, higher levels of nutrients may be necessary.


Despite its size, horseheal is relatively modest in terms of water supply. During the summer months it should be ensured that the soil is always slightly moist, so that the plant is optimally supplied with water throughout the day. Short periods of drought are usually tolerated by the plant.


It is completely normal that horseheal does not bloom in the first year. The plant initially accumulates enough reserves to start the second year with the development of flowers.

Diseases and pests

Pests are no problem for the horseheal. Also slug damage is not to be feared. Occasionally, powdery mildew occurs on the perennials.


Horseheal is a winter hardy or very frost tolerant plant. Special measures for wintering need not be taken.

horseheal plant
horseheal plant

Horseheal and its use

Horseheal in the kitchen

In the Middle Ages and early modern times, horseheal was a commonly used food crop, especially among the poorer population. It was often prepared as a vegetable garnish and was considered a valuable vitamin C donor, even if the taste was not considered particularly delicious due to the high bitterness.

The ground roots were then used as a spice, as well as occasionally today. The taste can be described as distinctly bitter and spicy, to slightly smoky and resinous. Seasoned were above all high-fat meals and fish dishes. As a spice, ground roots can boost digestion.

Horseheal roots are still processed in herb liqueurs or digestive schnapps.

Horseheal as a medicinal herb

As a medicinal herb, horseheal is used today mainly for various complaints of the lungs and occasionally as a vermifuge (anthelminthic). In the past, the plant was considered one of the best medicinal herbs for a variety of ailments.

There are numerous records that horseheal was used in ancient times and was also used extensively in the Middle Ages. In herbal books there are some applications and uses for the herb. Also, for Hildegard von Bingen and Sebastian Kneipp the plant was considered an important medicinal plant.

For example, a brew of its roots was used by women as a remedy for various menstrual cramps. Powdered root in combination with honey or sugar has been used in breathing difficulties, breathing cramps or even snake bites. A so-called horseheal-wine, which was drunk especially early and in the evening, was considered a universal remedy and tonic. Horseheal leaves preserved in wine were used to treat hip and limb pain.

For the naturopathy only the root plays a role. The roots contain mainly essential oils, some significant amounts of flavonoids and the polysaccharides belonging to the substance inulin.

Horseheal can be used for these ailments and diseases

  • anemia
  • angina
  • badly healing wounds
  • bilious complaint
  • bloating
  • bronchitis
  • chest pain
  • chronic bronchitis
  • cough
  • cramps
  • diarrhea
  • eczema
  • indigestion
  • intestinal inflammation
  • itching
  • loss of appetite
  • lung disease
  • menopausal symptoms
  • mucilage
  • muscle rupture
  • muscle strain
  • pleurisy
  • pneumonia (concomitant)
  • shortness of breath
  • skin blemishes
  • skin diseases
  • stomach weakness
  • sugar replacement (production of diabetic nutrients)
  • tonsillitis
  • ulcers
  • urinary retention
  • weave
  • whooping cough
  • worms
  • wounds

Medicinal properties

  • antibacterial
  • antifungal
  • anti-inflammatory
  • antiseptic
  • antispasmodic
  • blood purifier
  • carminative
  • cholagogue
  • cough absorbing
  • digestive
  • diuretic
  • expectorant
  • liver stimulating
  • menstruation regulating
  • sudorific
  • stimulates metabolism
  • vermifuge

Today, horseheal is used mainly for flu-like infections with severe cough and chronic lung complaints. These are probably mainly the essential oils or so-called sesquiterpenes and some other substances such as phytosterols which act synergistically and cause the lung-cleaning effects. The plant even has such a good reputation here that it is often recommended for the classic smoking disorder COPD. Although horseheal can not cure COPD, it can relieve many ailments such as severe bronchial obstruction or difficulty in breathing .

The most common form of administration is the horseheal tea, in which dried and crushed roots are used.

Preparation of a horseheal tea

Time needed: 10 minutes

This is how to prepare a horseheal tea by yourself.

  1. put a teaspoon of horseheal root in a tea strainer in a cup

  2. dash with boiling water

  3. let steep for 10 minutes

  4. drink the tea in small sips

  5. from this tea you drink one to three cups daily

As with all powerful herbs, you should take a break after six weeks of continuous use and temporarily drink another tea with a similar effect. Then you can drink horseheal tea again for six weeks. The break avoids any unwanted long-term effects and the desired effectiveness is maintained and does not diminish through habituation.

Horseheal tea mixture for coughing

Horseheal is also well suited as a component of mixed teas, for example as cough tea.

Here is an example tea blend for cough or bronchitis:

40 gr / 1.4 oz horseheal roots

20 gr / 0.7 oz ribwortplantain leaves

20 gr / 0.7 oz of licorice root

20 gr / 0.7 oz of lungwort

Preparation of a horseheal tincture

To prepare a horseheal tincture yourself, douse its roots in a screw cap jar with double grain or spirit until all parts of the plant are covered and allow the mixture to drain for one to six weeks.

Then strain and fill in a dark bottle.

This tincture is taken one to three times a day 10-50 drops.

If the tincture is too concentrated, you can dilute it with water.

Chew horseheal root

In antiquity, even Pliny the Elder recommended chewing horseheal roots.

Doing so should:

  • stimulate the digestion
  • improve the mood
  • refine the sense of taste

Folk medicine still recommends chewing horseheal roots today, especially before meals, to whet the appetite.

The best thing to do is chew the fresh, clean roots, because the active ingredients are still abundant in them.

Further use of horseheal


For ablutions of skin diseases, such as eczema, ulcers or pimples, prepare a decoction from horseheal roots. Then you wash the affected skin with it several times a day.


More intensive is the application as an envelope. Again, a horseheal decoction is prepared. A piece of cotton fabric is dipped in the horseheal tea and squeezed so it does not drip any more. Then it is placed on the skin to be treated and fixed with a woolen cloth or plastic wrap. The envelope should last for one hour until overnight before being removed.

Apply leaves

In folk medicine, the fresh leaves are placed on wounds or chronic skin inflammation in early summer and fixed. The inflammation should thereby be contained and wound healing promoted.

Side effects

The medical use of horseheal is sometimes not without side effects. People who have allergy to plants of the daisy family should refrain from taking horseheal products or discuss the use with a doctor or pharmacist first. In addition, if misused and overdosed, vomiting, diarrhea and generalized nausea may occur. A previous consultation with a doctor or expert naturopaths is therefore recommended.


Ask your doctor or pharmacist. Visiting this page can not replace the visit to the doctor. For serious or unclear complaints, consult your doctor.

Buy Horseheal – What is there to pay attention to?

Horseheal is today a gardener name especially as a decorative flower a term, which is why seeds and sometimes young plants can be found in plant specialty markets. For medicinal applications cut horseheal roots can be ordered directly from herbalists. The cultivation of horseheal as a medicinal plant is possible, but the plant must grow for at least two to three years before the roots of the plant can be used.

Horseheal seeds are offered by some seed producers. You will usually find what you are looking for at smaller online retailers or marketplaces, which usually offer the seed bags between 2 and 3 EUR/$. Who would like to grow the plant described here, should urgently pay attention to the botanical name Inula helenium, as many other species of the genus are simply offered as Horseheal. The price per plant is about 3-5 EUR/$.

When buying horseheal roots, care should be taken to ensure that they are finely chopped so that they can be easily portioned when making a tea. With horseheal products it is worth to pay a little more and to pay attention to the origin. Unfortunately, some Eastern European traders offer unclean products that contain large amounts of soil.

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