Echinacea, or purple coneflower, is one of the more popular herbal remedies. In supplement form, Echinacea extract is derived from a wildflower known as Echinacea Purpurea and its varieties. Echinacea was used in traditional Native American medicine to treat such problems as toothaches, sore throats, tonsillitis and coughs, as well as blood and lymphatic system ailments.
In modern times, Echinacea is widely used as an immune system enhancer to ward of colds and flu. Hundreds of scientific studies have supported the ability of Echinacea to alleviate and perhaps even "cure" the common cold when the herb is taken at the first sign of infection.
How does Echinacea work?
By stimulating the development of white blood cells, which in turn consume invading organisms that infect the body and cause cold and flu symptoms to develop.
Not only does Echinacea increase the production of white blood cells, but it also stimulates interferon, a vital part of the immune system known to be one of the front-line components in fighting the development of cancer cells.
Research also suggests that Echinacea can help to reduce inflammation associated with arthritis. A study conducted among arthritis sufferers in 1957 showed a 22% reduction in inflammation among those who took Echinacea.
Noteworthy here is that Echinacea was twice as effective as steroids in treating the symptoms of arthritis, but with no side effects. An added benefit is that, in addition to reducing inflammation, Echinacea enhances immunity, whereas steroids actually suppress the immune system.
In order to be most effective, Echinacea should be taken as soon as cold or flu symptoms become apparent. At the first sign of a scratchy throat or as soon as sneezing begins, experts advise consumers to begin taking Echinacea every few hours to nip an infection in the bud.
Even if you don't take Echinacea at the first sign of illness, it can still help keep colds and flu from getting worse. Echinacea contains a substance that works with the body's immune system by binding to cells to prevent bacteria and viruses from getting into those cells. In this way, it fights the spread of any pathogens that try to invade the body.
It is also commonly added to vitamin C supplements.
When choosing Echinacea, it is important to be sure that the herb is fresh. You can find out by checking the freshness date on the label of capsules or tinctures.
You can also buy dried Echinacea root for homemade remedies such as teas. To determine whether Echinacea root is fresh, taste some. It should be tingly on your tongue and cause you to salivate.
If you really want to ensure freshness, you can grow your own Echinacea. It is available in many nurseries and through seed catalogs. Be aware that plant roots need to be at least three years old in order to be effective, though. Echinacea leaves and flowers have medicinal properties sooner, and you can learn how to dry them to use in teas and other remedies.
If you buy Echinacea capsules or tinctures, be sure that you choose a preparation that is standardized to contain 4% Echinacosides, the active ingredient in Echinacea. You can read the label on the bottle to verify that the product is standardized.
The typical dosage of Echinacea in capsule form is 300 mg 3 times per day. The dosage for standardized tinctures is about 2 to 3 ml per day, and 2 to 3 g of dried root is considered sufficient.
Echinacea Side EffectsEchinacea side effects are extremely rare. The herb should not be used by anyone allergic to the Echinacea flower. Patients with autoimmune diseases and those who are taking immunosuppressant medications should also avoid it.
Though Echinacea is very effective in the short term to boost immunity and lessen the duration and intensity of colds, flu and related ailments, there is little evidence to support long-term use of the herb to prevent infection. Echinacea should be taken only when early symptoms of illness are apparent, and it should generally not be used for more than 7 to 14 days at a time. If illness persists or if symptoms worsen, contact a health care provider.
Personally, I'm a big believer in Echinacea. The key for effective use is beginning treatment as soon as you think you may even be getting a cold. If you leave it too late, then it becomes much less effective... that's my experience anyhow!