Updated: Oct 27
Over the last 20 years, herbal remedies have surged in popularity. People everywhere are looking for alternatives to the traditional western medicines that have become extremely common with varying degrees of effectiveness. For some, it’s strictly a matter of principle, while for others it might be because they have allergies to specific medicines that they may need in order to treat an infection or cold. A percentage of people are unable to take many of these man-made options for cold relief as well, so one herb has stood above the rest as a common cold and flu remedy, and that herb is called Echinacea.
What Is Echinacea?
Echinacea comes from a flowering plant called the Coneflower that closely resembles the common daisy, and is a member of the same family. This perennial plant can live for as many as 5 or 6 years, and can grow to be as tall as 4 feet. The flowers are usually pink or purple flowers with a larger multicolored center cone that holds the seeds. There are about 9 different types of wild coneflower on several different continents.
One of the interesting things about the wild coneflower, is that it doesn’t have any type of distinct smell until after it has been pollinated. After pollination has been completed, people say they have a smell that is somewhat similar to vanilla. Some types of echinacea have slightly different attributes than others.
History of This Powerful Herb
Echinacea was discovered by native American people when they noticed that animals’ wounds healed more quickly after they were observed feeding on the coneflowers. Over time, native American people experimented with Echinacea by extracting juices from the flower to try to use it to treat various other illness like coughs, infections, and open wounds like snake bites. This knowledge was passed to Europeans when they came to the continent, and as time moved forward, the settlers began using the herb in trade and for medicinal purposes. Eventually, the herbs began to make their way to other areas, as they became a medical staple for several years.
Today, Echinacea is now mostly used as an immune support supplement. Scientists have put an enormous amount of work into cross breeding the plant, and creating all kinds of new varieties with an array of colors to suit the purposes of interested consumers. Some have even created varieties that can have a fragrance before pollination.
How It Works
Studies of Echinacea have revealed that they contain an impressive multitude of natural chemicals that can aid the healing processes of animal life. These chemicals include alkamides, polysaccharides, and glycoproteins. These tiny nutrients can help provide you with an easy source of accessible nutrition that your body can quickly use to incorporate into healing. Efficiency of absorption means faster healing times on a physical level.
Another factor helps this process are phenols, which are antioxidant in nature. When the anti-inflammatory parts of the plant interact with wounded areas, the arrested swelling makes it easier for the body to repair itself, because the purpose of inflammation of to protect the wound until healing is safe to take place. By taking a healing herb like Echinacea, the herb can kill many of the harmful agents surrounding the injury, bring down the inflammation, and use its tiny bits of nutrients to rebuild to the damaged area.
Benefits of Echinacea
Echinacea has had a rich history of contributing to the lives of the people who cultivate it. With hundreds of years of use and experimentation, the benefits of echinacea have become firmly established by both science and history. The next few paragraphs will be a discussion of some of the benefits.
1. Reduces Pain
Perhaps one of the most overlooked of the attributes of echinacea is its ability to arrest the body's natural pain reception. The two best ways to use echinacea for pain relief would be to either make a tea from the plant, or to apply it topically directly to the area affected. Native people learned that the plant could be chewed or drank in a tea to reduce toothaches, and this use for pain relief began to extend beyond dental application.
In ancient times, echinacea was used to treat all sorts of injuries, but it is believed that the practice came from using it to tend snake bite, and was extended to use for the purpose of treating pain associated with venereal diseases.
2. Immune Support
The most common way that echinacea is currently used is simply for immune support. Usually found in pill form, these supplements can be bought over the counter, but it's debatable as to what percentages are in each supplement. Many of these will be in gel caps, and companies have been known to cut their purity by adding fillers. It would probably be preferable to ingest the plant in a tea or chewed form to get the maximum benefits that come from echinacea.
It has been noted that those who regularly consume echinacea generally experience colds and flus for about half of the length of most people. It also reduces the severity and chances of getting colds.
3. Kills Infections
Another way that echinacea is a great ally to your immune system, is that it can directly fight off infections. When microorganisms get into the body, a weak immune system could expose you to the possibility of being overrun with illness. Echinacea helps the body by killing these agents, and some have even noted that it can kill serious viral infections. It can’t eliminate these viruses, but it can keep them low enough to reduce appearances of some of the more serious symptoms that are caused by these illnesses.
4. It Can Reduce Inflammation
One of the most important parts of healing the body is the reduction of inflammation. This part of the process is meant to protect the wound while it heals slowly or until you take action to heal the area. Echinacea can take down the painful swelling that can work against you in the need to speed up the healing process.
5. It Can Fight Cancer
A benchmark of a great healing plant is its ability to reduce oxidative stress and inflammation. Given that echinacea has all of both of these important factors, it should be no surprise that it can extend to protect you against some of the most serious illnesses. Cancer thrives on genetically damaged areas of the body.
The stresses placed on your DNA can cause anomalies, tumors and cancers in the body because the damaged DNA is unable to construct organs properly. These destructive malformations can spread resulting in serious damages and death. Ingesting echinacea works to help your body protect itself from these genetic issues.
6. Helps Your Skin
Few people think of the skin an organ, but it is one of the largest organs in the body. As you go through life, you are exposed to a massive array of pollutant, and irritants from every side. Skin is sensitive, and can easily become inflamed when you get to close to something that your skin doesn’t particularly like. Echinacea has the ability to reduce and protect against the agents that cause these responses.
You can mash the plant into a paste that you apply directly to the site of disturbed skin. You can also make a poultice that you press against the area.
7. Helps Your Breathing
Have you ever had issues with asthma, strep throat, or a crouping cough? Echinacea is especially good at dealing with upper respiratory issues. In recent years, studies have revealed that echinacea has performed comparably to traditional medicines for asthma, because it was quick to reduce inflammation of the bronchial tubes and lungs. Some of the other respiratory illnesses it has been used for having been diphtheria, tuberculosis, and whooping cough.
In these cases however, much higher doses were needed, so you may want to try an essential oil, or supplement rather than drinking a tea, because the agents needed should be higher in dose than tea can provide.
8. Fights Depression
New information made available by scientists who have been carrying out studies on echinacea have discovered another interesting effect that it can dole out. Apparently, echinacea angustifolia can help fight depression. It was observed that taking small doses of echinacea supplements around 15 - 25 milligrams can help alleviate some symptoms of anxiety and depression.
This great news for future research in natural ways to deal with depression. This opens up a host of new possibilities for people who would like to be able to take a safe pill that can help them manage their emotions, but much more information is needed before a study can be set up to test drugs that are developed using this route. Typically, licensing obstacles prevent companies from wanting to do experimentation using natural products.
9. It Can Be a Laxative
Echinacea is truly a wonder herb. Studies have acknowledged that drinking 2 cups of echinacea tea a day can help make you more regular, but it should be noted that consuming more than the recommended amounts could lead to some relatively unpleasant illness. Echinacea is apparently very effective as a laxative, so being careful about what amounts are taken could change the outcome of your entre week.
Understanding Safety Precautions
It is extremely important that you do your due diligence when researching this product for purchase. In recent years, curious consumers have made it a point to test and analyze what they have been sold, and in a few cases, it’s been four that the supplements contained either smaller amounts of the plant, or almost none at all. Depending on the conditions of the manufacturer, some of these false supplements can even cause harm to your body because they have been found to contain poisonous materials like heavy metals. It would be best to try and find a source that is certified for authenticity.
Safety and Reactions
Even though you can consider the echinacea and its source, the coneflower a safe, and all-natural plant, there are a number of plants in nature that can be poisonous to you if you ingest them in high amounts. Some plants are poisonous in any amount, so the term natural only describes how the plant came about, not its level of safety. It would be advisable to consult a doctor when taking any sort of supplement, particularly one that is regulated so little in many places.
Also, though somewhat uncommon, some people have been reported to have had allergic reactions to echinacea, so you may want to get an allergy test before launching fully into use of it to treat specific ailments. If you were to find yourself in the middle of a seriously adverse reaction, it might take fast intervention to prevent discomfort and danger.
Disclaimer: If you have a medical condition or pregnant please contact your HCP before using any substances. This information is not meant to replace the advise of your HCP.