Botanical: Echinacea purpurea
parts used: whole plant, leaves, flowers, roots
energetics: cool, dry
properties alterative, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, antimicrobial, antipyretic, antiviral, immunostimulator, lymphagogue, sialagogue, vulnerary,
plant preparations: tea, decoction, mouthwash, poultice (mix with clay), tincture
Echinacea has become one of the world’s most popular herbs. Echinacea comes from the Greek echinos, meaning hedgehog or sea-urchin, because of its conical spiny seed heads
Echinacea was a traditional remedy of the Native American Indians in the Great Plains, where it grows wild. The Cheyenne, Comanche, and other tribes used it for many ailments, including toothaches, sore throats, tonsillitis, coughs, and blood and lymphatic diseases.
A lay doctor, H. C. F. Meyer, “re-discovered” Echinacea in the 1870s, and within 20 years it became the most popular herb of the era. Dr. Meyer was so confident in his claims that he offered to “allow himself to be bitten by several rattlesnakes to prove the truth of his claims. Meyer claimed to know of over 600 cases in which his remedy had not failed to cure rattlesnake bites.”
How to Use Echinacea
United Plant Saver Recommendations
Echinacea poses some special conservation concerns.
- Use only cultivated resources.
- Possible alternatives include marsh mallow, boneset, and astragalus. Spilanthes nicely replaces the herb’s antibacterial, antiviral, immunostimulating, and antifungal effects.
- Burdock is antibacterial for bacteria classified as gram-positive, and thyme has antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties; both of these herbs are also good alternatives.
~Steven Foster, Planting the Future, pg. 94-95, 97-98
Echinacea makes a delightful tea.
Use echinacea flowers in salad or as garnish.
Use a strong infusion of echinacea in a bath to help sooth the skin.
Using Echinacea for Wellness
The complex sugars of the herb are its immune stimulants. Polysaccharides and Echinaceoside.
Gaia herbs states in their “CONCLUSIONS ON THE USE OF ECHINACEA”
After reviewing the research and seeing the volume of studies that continue to be performed on Echinacea in varying stages of the immune cycle, it seems we are just beginning to understand the complexities and multiple uses of this botanical. A few negative studies does not mean that Echinacea does not work, but seems to indicate that we are finally beginning to understand that each part of Echinacea has unique phyto-chemistries that can benefit the immune system in many ways.
The root fraction, naturally rich in alkylamides, is anti-inflammatory and is likely beneficial in the acute stages of a cold or flu. It may also be more effective when used in conjunction with other immune-supportive herbs such as Black Elderberry, Gingerroot, and Andrographis. During this time, Echinacea root must be taken in high dose and frequency to be effective as soon as symptoms begin to appear.
On the other hand, the aerial portion of Echinacea is best taken to stimulate and strengthen the immune system throughout the season. Echinacea in this form is thought to enhance the immune system and should be taken in a lower dose long term. The fresh-pressed juice of Echinacea aerial parts is also best taken with other immune-stimulating herbs that are also rich in immune polysaccharides such as Astragalus root, Larch gum, Maitake mushroom extract, Echinacea pallida flower, Black Elderberries, and Gingerroot.
Note: Clinical information for E. angustifolia and E. purpurea species is basically interchangeable in most circumstances. In vitro and in vivo studies show that E. purpurea stimulates the immune system in a non-specific way by activating macrophages, enhancing phagocytes and stimulating the secretion of TNF and interleukins 1 and 6. Echinacea protects the gut from harmful micro-organisms due to its enhancement of phagocytosis.
It also decreases inflammatory allergic reactions in mild food allergies and stimulates gastric healing. The constituent, echinacin, has been shown to be useful in treatment of tonsillitis in pediatric practices. Due to its specificity for infectious conditions, it is used for colds, influenza, wounds, infections, allergies, bacterial and viral disease, swollen glands and gum disease.
I prefer angustifolia for long term storage of dry root. It stores better than purpurea. I tend to use purpurea fresh more than angustifolia as it grows best where I live and is very active. I have no need to use angustifolia unless I want long term storage. Echinacea angustifolia is becoming endangered so if using
Echinacea angustifolia only or ganic should be used.
Infusion: 1/2 – 1 teaspoon per cup of water; or 1:1.5 fresh + dry liquid extract: 10-120 drops 1-4 times per day. If using for an acute infection can use 120 drops as much as every 2 hours for first 24-48 hours. *
According to Horizon Herbs “Echinacea roots are pretty stable after washing and may be cold-stored or shipped over a period of several days without molding. However, it makes sense to make the fresh root tincture as soon as possible after washing, which will minimize oxidation.”
- Persons who are allergic to the pollen of other members of the aster family, such as ragweed, may also be allergic to echinacea. The German government recommends that nonspecific immunostimulants, including echinacea, should not be used in cases of impaired immune response (involving diseases of the immune system itself) including tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, and HIV infection.
- Echinacea: Nature’s Immune Enhancer. Stephen Foster. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, VT. 1991.
- United Plant Savers – Echinacea – Echinacea spp. http://www.unitedplantsavers.org/echinacea-echinacea-spp. Accessed May 13, 2014.
- The Book of Herbal Wisdom by Matthew Wood 243-244
- *Echinacea and Relatives, Sharol Tilgner
- Horizon Herbs