The Echinacea herb was and continues to be a popular choice for treating, among other things, respiratory and urinary conditions.
Echinacea is a flowering plant found throughout Europe and North America. It was used as a medicinal herb by Native Americans living in the Great Plains and approved by German researchers as a treatment for colds, flu, chronic respiratory issues, and urinary tract infections. It was also applied topically as a treatment for wounds and burns and used as a treatment for diphtheria, blood poisoning, malaria, syphilis, and scarlet fever.
Echinacea is an herbal medicine with the potential ability to enhance the immune system. It is obtained from the dried roots, stem, and leaves of the perennial plant Echinacea purpureaand commonly referred to as the purple coneflower, Kansas snakeroot, black Susan, black Sampson, comb flower, Indian head, and hedgehog. Dried roots of Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallid(below ground level)are also used as medicine.
Echinacea’s components include glycoprotein, alkamides, polyacetylene flavonoids, and caffeic acid derivatives. However, there are no clinical studies to support the effectiveness of these components in treating the common cold. The concentration and components of the medicine may vary widely depending on the type of Echinacea and plant part used.
Although many studies support its success, a 2006 U. S. study found no apparent benefits from Echinacea. In Canada and the U.S., herbal remedies are not evaluated or regulated by a government agency like pharmaceuticals. As a result, no standards are set for dosage or preparation, and no criteria are created for the safety or effectiveness of herbal supplements. Nevertheless, Echinacea is available in most drug and food stores and is one of the most popular herbs sold in the U.S.
Species of Echinacea
Echinacea remedies can vary in components and medicinal properties depending on its species.
Echinacea purpurea is used for its leaves, roots, and stems and is believed by some to be effective in boosting the immune system.
Echinacea angustifolia is used for its roots and is considered the most potent and most difficult to grow of the three species.
Echinacea pallid is used for its roots which possess high concentrations of odorous oils.
Echinacea is primarily used to treat, prevent, or reduce the severity and duration of colds, sore throat, and flu. It may help protect the body from viruses by stimulating the immune system and triggering white blood cells to attack germs. It is also used to treat urinary tract infections, superficial wounds, and pain and inflammation that accompany psoriasis and eczema. Echinacea may have hormonal antiviral and antioxidant effects and is recommended by herbalists to treat vaginal infections, ear infections, athlete’s foot, sinusitis, and hay fever. It is sometimes used to stimulate the immune system following chemotherapy treatment, but with decreasing effect if taken for more than a few weeks.
As with any medicine, Echinacea should only be taken with the approval of a medical professional. Be alert to any side effects and any subsequent complications. Follow the instructions on the label as well as the advice of your doctor.
Echinacea is available as a powder or a tincture (an alcohol-based preparation). Skin conditions are treated with the plant’s fresh-pressed juice. Never take Echinacea on an empty stomach as it may cause nausea and dizziness. Echinacea should be consumed with food or a large glass of water. Consult with your doctor before taking Echinacea for more than two weeks.
Internal or external Echinacea usage may produce adverse effects or allergic reactions including:
• Upset stomach
• Muscle aches
• Worsening of asthma symptoms
• Difficulty breathing
• Sore throat
• Allergic reactions
• Temporary numbness of tongue
• Activation of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and collagen disease
• Prolonged use may cause liver problems and immunosuppression
Persons allergic to the daisy flower and its family may have a heightened risk of developing severe reactions after using Echinacea. Consult a physician immediately if an allergic reaction occurs.
Avoid using Echinacea if you suffer from:
• Autoimmune diseases such as lupus
• Type 1 diabetes
• Multiple sclerosis
• Liver disease
• Connective tissue disorder
People who have undergone organ transplantation should also stay away from Echinacea. The herb interacts with caffeine, lovastatin, cyclosporine, diltiazem, estrogens, predisome, and corticosteroids. Combining these with Echinacea reduces their effectiveness in your metabolism and may cause unwanted side effects. If you are taking the aforementioned or if you use alcohol, smoke, or take illegal drugs, consult with your physician before taking Echinacea.
The safety of Echinacea use while pregnant or breastfeeding has been examined by only one study. Unfortunately, the research involved only 206 women who took Echinacea during random moments in their pregnancy. There were no increases in miscarriages or birth defects in the newborns. Although this research is promising, it is far too limited to form a definite conclusion. Pregnant women should not take an alcohol-containing Echinacea tincture as it might result in alcohol-related diseases and birth defects.
In the U.S., there is no FDA regulation of Echinacea, so most healthcare officials will err on the side of caution and suggest that new moms avoid it. Contact your health care provider if you intend to use Echinacea while pregnant or breastfeeding.
Herbs and herbal products have been used as medicines for hundreds of years. Modern chemists and pharmacists have helped make herbs like Echinacea readily available in capsules, tablets, powders, teas, extracts, and fresh or dry plants. However, until a formal FDA report on the safety of Echinacea is available, it should be used at your own risk. Always consult your physician before using Echinacea.