Echinacea (scientific names Echinacea purpurea, angustifolia or pallida) is native to the United States. It is known by gardeners as the purple coneflower.
The wild plant Echinacea angustifolia is currently on the endangered species list, so make sure that you are only using cultivated Echinacea and not the gathered herb.
Prophylactic against colds, flu and upper respiratory infections
Regulates, strengthens and modulates the immune system
Breaks up mucous that accumulates during upper respiratory infections
What does Echinacea do?
Echinacea is typically used for colds, influenza and upper respiratory infections. It is also used to help heal skin abrasions and fungal infections. In a Meta analysis Echinacea has been proven to actually prevent colds and flu up to 50%, and it might shorten the duration and frequency.
Echinacea can be taken orally to treat mild infections, or topically on the skin, in the mouth and inside the mucosal membranes of the genital tract.
How does it work?
It's believed that Echinacea modulates (regulates) the immune system in general. It supports and regulates the activity of TNF-alpha in the immune system and fights bacterial, viral and/or fungal infections.
Vaccines, like the flu vaccine, only eradicate specific viruses, while antibiotics kill off specific bacteria only. Echinacea also regulates macrophages that destroy disease-causing organisms and cancer cells.
Use Echinacea to treat respiratory problems, asthma and hay fever.
Colds, influenza and upper respiratory tract infections
As one of the most effective immune stimulants in the herbal kingdom, Echinacea fights both viral and bacterial infections. It is best used during the onset of illness. Use an Echinacea gargle to treat throat infections.
Echinacea's immune-stimulating powers have attracted the interest of HIV/Aids researchers.
Post-viral fatigue syndrome
Because Echinacea stimulates the immune system, it seems to be particularly helpful for treating chronic infections, such as post-viral fatigue syndrome (ME).
Urinary tract infections
Studies have found that Echinacea purpurea may effectively treat some urinary tract infections and wounds - especially when taken with other antiseptic herbs such as buchu or golden seal. Echinacea has also been used to treat kidney infections.
It also treats:
Bronchitis, tonsillitis, middle ear infection, sinusitis and laryngitis. It helps heal skin conditions including, boils, septic wounds and most other skin abrasions.
Echinacea in tincture form diluted in warm water can also be used to slow down the growth rate of Trichomonas vaginalis, a common cause of vaginal infections. The herb has also proved to be useful in the elimination of Candida albicans that causes yeast infection or thrush.
Before taking Echinacea, it is important to note that the herb is most effective when taken at the onset of infection. But if you already have a full-blown cold or flu, it will speed up healing and reduce the symptoms.
If you feel a cold or flu coming on, take three to four millilitres of Echinacea in a liquid form or a 300mg tablet every two hours for the first day of the illness. From then on take it three times a day until you are well again. Then you reduce the dose to once a day to help the body stay well.
You can take Echinacea once a day preventatively all year round to modulate the immune system.
Echinacea taken as an organic fresh plant extract has shown to be most beneficial.
Echinacea capsules contain the powdered root of the herb. If you feel a cold coming on, take a 500mg capsule three times a day.
For throat infections, gargle with 5ml Echinacea tincture mixed into some warm water three times a day.
Take Echinacea as immune regulator while the infection persists.
Twenty to thirty Echinacea drops can be taken in a little water three to six times a day.
For chronic infections, take half a teaspoon of the tincture three times a day.
A tea made from one to two grams of the dried Echinacea can be taken three to six times a day during infection.
What other herbs and supplements can I use with Echinacea?
Other anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory herbs such as garlic, golden seal, astragalus, chamomile, sweet orange, yarrow and cranberry all support the action of Echinacea. Take a daily antioxidant to boost the immune system.
Can children take Echinacea?
Reserve antibiotics only for really serious childhood infections. Echinacea can be used by children. Children under the age of ten should take half the adult dosage and children under four, a quarter of the adult dosage. An Echinacea Junior tablet is available for children.
Possible side effects:
It is known that people who are sensitive to the daisy family of flowers could have side effects when using Echinacea such as intestinal upset and diarrhoea or possible skin rash if used topically. High doses of the herb may cause nausea and dizziness.
Echinacea is a relatively safe herb and there have been no reports of adverse side effects and reactions from taking the herb orally. Medical experts do however warn against the use of Echinacea injections. There is also no known toxicity.
Are there any potentially dangerous herb-drug interactions?
There are no known interactions between Echinacea and other medications, so it is safe to use Echinacea with other herbal medicines and other medication. But pregnant women and people with serious ailments should consult their doctor before using any herbal medicine.
Although there have been no conclusive studies to prove it, women who are on the contraceptive pill should rather be safe than sorry and should avoid using Echinacea.
People with HIV, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, leukaemia and autoimmune diseases should consult their doctors or a specialist first before using Echinacea.
Do not take Echinacea if you are allergic to any plant from the Asteraceae family (including ragweed, chrysanthemum and daisies).
Consult your doctor before taking Echinacea during pregnancy.
Note that Echinacea is not a substitute for medical therapies when treating serious infections or rapidly deteriorating diseases.
(Image: Jacob Rus)
- (Reviewed by Estie Schreiber, National Health Advisor, SA Natural Products, July 2010)