Health Benefits of Echinacea

by Webmaster,

The health benefits of echinacea consumption are many and well-known for years.

Echinacea facts

The echinacea plant is native to North America and is characterized by its purple flowers. The two commonly used species of echinacea plants are the Echinacea purpurea and the Echinacea angustifolia, with the latter being the more potent one.

Common names of the herb include "echinacea", "coneflower", "purple coneflower", "sampson root" and "red sunflower".

North American tribes traditionally used the echinacea herb for conditions such as gangrene, measles, rabies, snakebites, stings, sore throats, swollen glands and toothaches, among others. It is said that magicians during that time washed their hands with echinacea juice before placing them into scalding hot water.

Echinacea was included in the National Formulary, a pharmacists' reference book, from 1916 to 1946.

Uses and health benefits of echinacea

There is extensive echinacea study on its uses and the health benefits of echinacea consumption, with the main one being the stimulation and boosting of the immune system.

Firstly, echinacea research reveals that it stimulates the body to build more immune cells, i.e. white blood cells. In addition, it increases the level of activity and mobility of these cells, thereby raising the rate of phagocytosis, i.e. the process whereby immune cells of the body destroy harmful microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria and fungi.

Dr Richard Schulze stated that echinacea is one of the strongest stimulators of the immune system known and that it can double or even triple the amount of certain types of immune cells in the body (T-cells, macrophages). It also increases the amount of immune chemicals such interferon and interlukin.

Phytochemicals (plant chemicals) such as polysaccharides, polyacetylenes, and echinacoside which are present in echinacea plants are also responsible for the various health-promoting benefits of echinacea.

Dr Schulze added that, in his clinic, he used echinacea effectively to combat all kinds of diseases and infections, including chronic conditions. Due to its immune-stimulating properties, it can in fact be used for any health condition.

All in all, echinacea has been used and proven helpful for various conditions, including:

  • acne
  • allergic reactions - relieving them
  • animal and insect bites and stings
  • anti-bacterial
  • anti-fungal - including being helpful against candida overgrowth
  • anti-inflammatory
  • anti-tumor - some studies have shown the herb to inhibit the growth of tumors
  • anti-viral action - including viral fevers
  • arthritis
  • asthma
  • blood - cleans the blood and improves circulation
  • colds and the common flu - prevention and treatment; lessens severity and shortens duration
  • immune system - stimulates it; seriously investigated for use on persons suffering from conditions of impaired immune systems, e.g. HIV, AIDS
  • infections - including tonsillitis and those in the urinary tract and respiratory system
  • sore throats

    Externally, liquid forms of the herb can be used to wash skin wounds, including bites, boils, burns and rashes.

    Modes of use

    The main parts of the herb which are used for medicinal purposes are its flowers and roots.

    Echinacea is usually taken as a decoction, tincture, powder, or in capsules.

    The liquid versions - i.e. decoction and tincture, can be diluted and used to wash infected skin areas. They can also be gargled and swallowed to deal with sore throats. I use the latter method, to very good effect.

    Herbal tinctures, which are stored in dark amber glass bottles and stored in cool and dark areas, have a very long shelf-life and can last for many years, while retaining their potency. They are also arguably the most concentrated in terms of health-promoting properties, and thus a great way to reap the health benefits of echinacea. They, however, contain alcohol. Personally, I use this form of echinacea.

    The earlier the herb is used i.e. as a preventative or at the onset of symptoms for colds, viruses, infections, etc, the more effective it will be.

    If the alcohol in tinctures is a concern, the tinctured herbal extracts can be placed in a cup, after which hot water is added. This would cause most of the alcohol in the tinctures to evaporate. The resulting mixture can then be drunk as a tea, and sweetened with honey or maple syrup if necessary.

    Echinacea side effects

    No significant toxic side effects have been observed from studies. There are apparently also no known overdoses.

    In addition, no known negative echinacea side effects for its use by pregnant and nursing women have been noted. Therefore, the use of echinacea during pregnancy should be safe.

    However, allergic reactions may sometimes be triggered by the use of the herb. Thus, echinacea should be used with caution by those who have autoimmune diseases as well as those who are allergic to flowers of the marigold and daisy families.

    There is an 'echinacea warning' issued by some who advocate that the herb should not be used indefinitely, and should only be taken for certain periods of time at a go, e.g. for a few weeks. The fear is the extended use of the herb would "burn out" the immune system. According to Dr Schulze, however, he had patients who consumed the herb daily for 2 to 3 years but never suffered the supposed impairing of the immune system.

    As is true with all strong medicinal herbs, it would be advisable to stop consumption of the herb echinacea for a week or two, after a period of taking it, before resumption.

    Echinacea for children

    Echinacea can be effectively taken by children to prevent and combat colds, viruses, infections, etc, albeit at lower doses.

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