Herbs: Echinacea

Echinacea-FieldandHerbs Echinacea

Echinacea is certainly one of the most popular herbs of our times, and for good reason. It is one of the top immune-enhancing herbs, helping to build immune-system strength and to fight off disease and infection. Many herbalists and natural-medicine practitioners feel it’s the most important immune-enhancing herb in Western medicine. Echinacea has been called the “great herbal diplomat” because it, perhaps more than any other medicinal plant, rescued herbalism from its twentieth-century obscurity. 

Our research has determined if one does not have echinacea as a staple in their herbalist medicine cabinet, their cabinet is simply not complete. Continue reading to find out why echinacea should be at the top of your list for herbal healing.

How It Works In the Body

Echinacea is thought to support the immune system by activating white blood cells. Three major groups of constituents may work together to increase the production and activity of white blood cells (lymphocytes and macrophages), including alkylamides/polyacetylenes, caffeic acid derivatives, and polysaccharides.

Echinacea may also increase production of interferon, an important part of the body’s response to viral infections. Several double-blind studies have confirmed the benefit of echinacea for treating colds and flu. In terms of other types of infections, research in Germany using injectable forms (or an oral preparation) of the herb along with a medicated cream (econazole nitrate) reduced the recurrence of vaginal yeast infections as compared to women given the cream alone.

Organic Chemical Constituents

Echinacea contains the following organic chemical constituents:

  • alkaloids
  • echinacoside
  • flavonoids
  • isobutyl amides
  • polyacetylenes
  • polysaccharides
  • volatile oils

Benefits of Echinacea

  • Natural Antitoxin: potential natural antitoxin for internal and external infections
  • Influenza: taking echinacea may help clear flu symptoms faster.
  • Common Cold: at the first sign of a cold, taking immune-stimulating echinacea as a juice or tincture may make colds less severe.
  • Possible antitumor activity
  • May increase immune function after cancer treatment
  • Gingivitis: a mouthwash containing sage oil, peppermint oil, menthol, chamomile tincture, expressed juice from echinacea, myrrh tincture, clove oil, and caraway oil has been used successfully to treat gingivitis.
  • Bronchitis: echinacea is an immune-stimulating herb that is widely used by herbalists for people with acute respiratory infections.
  • Canker Sores: the antiviral, immune-enhancing, and wound-healing properties of echinacea may make this herb a reasonable choice for canker sores.
  • Chronic Candidiasis: the fresh-pressed juice of Echinacea purpurea has been shown to help prevent recurring yeast infections in one trial.
  • Cold Sores: in traditional herbal medicine, tinctures of various herbs including echinacea have been applied topically to herpes outbreaks in order to promote healing.
  • Ear Infections: children with recurrent ear infections may benefit from taking echinacea, as it has been reported to support healthy immune function.
  • Vaginitis: echinacea is antibacterial and known to improve resistance to infection.
  • Wound Healing: echinacea is used among European practitioners of herbal medicine to promote wound healing.
  • Yeast Infection: echinacea, which enhances immune function, has been used successfully to treat yeast infections.

Then and Now Medicinal Uses

Echinacea was used by Native Americans for a variety of conditions, including venomous bites and other external wounds. It was introduced into U.S. medical practice in 1887 and was touted for use in conditions ranging from colds to syphilis. Modern research started in the 1930s in Germany.

Precautions

Those who are allergic to flowers of the daisy family should not take echinacea. Cases of allergic responses to echinacea (e.g., wheezing, skin rash, diarrhea) have been reported in medical literature. In the first study to look at echinacea’s possible effect on fetal development and pregnancy outcome, women taking echinacea during pregnancy were found to have no greater incidence of miscarriage or birth defects than women not taking the herb.

Resources to Dive Into

Blumenthal M, Busse WR, Goldberg A, et al. (eds). The Complete Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Boston, MA: Integrative Medicine Communications, 1998, 121-3.

Braunig B, Dorn M, Limburg E, et al. Echinacea purpurea radix for strengthening the immune response in flu-like infections. Z Phytother 1992;13:7-13 [in German].

Brikenborn RM, Shah DV, Degenring FH. Echinaforce and other Echinacea fresh plant preparations in the treatment of the common cold. A randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial. Phytomedicine1999;6:1-5.

Brown DJ. Herbal Prescriptions for Better Health. Rocklin, CA: Prima Publishing, 1996, 63-8.

Carabin IG, Flamm WG. Evaluation of safety of inulin and oligofructose as dietary fiber. Regul Toxicol Pharmacol 1999;30:268-82 [review].

Coeugniet E, Kuhnast R. Recurrent candidiasis. Adjuvant immunotherapy with different formulations of Echinacea. Therapiwoche 1986;36:3352-8 [in German].

Coussement PA. Inulin and oligofructose: safe intakes and legal status. J Nutr 1999;129:1412S-7S [review].

Dorn M, Knick E, Lewith G. Placebo-controlled, double-blind study of Echinacea pallida redix in upper respiratory tract infections. Comp Ther Med 1997;5:40-2.

Duke, JA. Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of GRAS Herbs and Other Economic Plants. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1992.

Gallo M, Sarkar M, Au W, et al. Pregnancy outcome following gestational exposure to echinacea. Arch Intern Med 2000;160:3141-3.

Gay-Crosier F, Schreiber G, Hauser C. Anaphylaxis from inulin in vegetables and processed food. N Engl J Med 2000;342:1372 [letter].

Grimm W, Mueller HH. A randomized controlled clinical trial of the effect of fluid extract of Echinacea purpurea on the incidence and severity of colds and respiratory infections. Am J Med 1999;106:138-43.

Hoheisel O, Sandberg M, Bertram S, et al. Echinacea shortens the course of the common cold: a double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial. Eur J Clin Res 1997;9:261-8.

Kocaman O, Hulagu S, Senturk O. Echinacea-induced severe acute hepatitis with features of cholestatic autoimmune hepatitis. Eur J Intern Med 2008;19:148 [Letter].

Leuttig B, Steinmuller C, Gifford GE, et al. Macrophage activation by the polysaccharide arabinogalactan isolated from plant cell cultures of Echinacea purpurea. J Natl Cancer Inst 1989;81:669-75.

Melchart D, Linde K, Worku F, et al. Immunomodulation with echinacea-a systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Phytomedicine 1994;1:245-54 [review].

Melchart D, Walther E, Linde K, et al. Echinacea root extracts for the prevention of upper respiratory tract infections: a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial. Arch Fam Med 1998;7:541-5.

Mullins RJ. Echinacea-associated anaphylaxis. Med J Austral 1998;168:170-1.

See DM, Broumand N, Sahl L, Tilles JG. In vitro effects of echinacea and ginseng on natural killer and antibody-dependent cell cytotoxicity in healthy subjects and chronic fatigue syndrome or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome patients. Immunopharmacology 1997;35:229-35.

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