Echinacea has long been touted as a healing plant used for medicinal and culinary purposes. It is often found in teas and herbal supplements to support a general healthy internal response. Read this article to learn how echinacea may support your optimal health!
What is Echinacea?
Echinacea represents nine different types of coneflowers of the genus Echinacea within the Asteraceae (daisy) family. The name echinacea comes from the Latin word “echīnātus” meaning “prickly,” and from the Greek word “ekhinos” meaning “hedgehog” – referring to its cone-shaped seed head. (1)
Echinacea is an herbaceous perennial plant that grows in North America. It has a purplish-pink bloom with a coarse, purple or brown hairy seed head in the center. This adaptable plant is tolerant to drought, heat, humidity, and poor soil, but it grows best in medium, well-drained soil in full sun to partial shade. It can be found happily growing in the moist prairies, meadows, and open woods of the central to southeastern U.S. The plant typically grows to 2-4 feet tall. (2)
Echinacea is one of the most popular herbs used to maintain good health. Its leaves, flowers, and roots are used in herbal medicine. The plant is used fresh, dried, or in powdered form. Three species of echinacea, most commonly Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower, or Eastern Purple Coneflower), Echinacea angustifolia (Narrow-leaved Coneflower, or Black Samson Echinacea), and Echinacea pallida (Pale Purple Coneflower), are included in liquid extracts, tinctures, capsules, tablets, or softgels to support immune system function. Echinacea is also used to make teas or juice to support a healthy internal response and in topical ointments to promote wound healing. (3)
How Does Echinacea Work?
The immune system is the human body’s first line of defense against harmful microbes and free radicals. It is important to help maintain its healthy function. Echinacea is believed to activate chemicals in the body that protect it against inflammation by stimulating a healthy immune response This may help temporarily relieve minor cold and flu symptoms, but there is a lack of scientific evidence proving this claim for humans. Echinacea is also believed to contain some compounds that may attack yeast and other kinds of fungi. (4)
The roots of the echinacea plant contain volatile oils, while the above-ground parts of the plant contain the polysaccharides that support the immune system. In addition, echinacea contains glycoproteins and flavonoids. These compounds are believed to play a role in maintaining good health. (5)
All species of echinacea have compounds called phenols, which play important roles in the activity of enzymes and cell receptors These protect the plant from infections and ultraviolet (UV) radiation damage. Echinacea also contains alkylamides or alkamides, (not in Echinacea pallida), and caffeic acid derivatives. (6)
It is believed that some of these active compounds trigger macrophage stimulation. This stimulation encourages large white blood cells to locate foreign microbes and digest them. Theses compounds could also help produce more antigen-specific immunoglobulins. Antigen-specific immunoglobulins are the antibodies in the immune system that recognize and bind to antigens (bacteria or viruses) and aid in their destruction. (7, 8, 9)
Brief History of Echinacea
Echinacea has been used in herbal formulas for respiratory illnesses, scarlet fever, syphilis, malaria, blood poisoning, diphtheria, and even snakebites. (10)
According to archaeological research, some Native American Indian tribes and North American settlers used echinacea for centuries in traditional herbal remedies as a general “cure-all” to support a healthy immune system and to treat infections or wounds. According to Native American lore, humans learned to use echinacea by watching wounded or sick elk eating the herb. They named it the “elk root.” The Kiowa and the Cheyenne used echinacea to relieve sore throats and coughs, while the Pawnee said it was useful for headaches. The Lakȟóta said it worked as a natural painkiller. (11)
Echinacea also became popular in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe, especially in Germany, where it has been the topic of scientific research. (12)
Prior to the widespread use of antibiotics in modern medicine, echinacea was listed in the U.S. National Formulary from 1916-1950. Today, people interested in natural health options are again becoming interested in echinacea and its potential health benefits and uses.
Echinacea can be found in various forms to support immune system health and a healthy internal response including capsules, softgels, tablets, liquid extracts, teas, juices, or topical formulas. However, keep in mind there are many different types of echinacea products, but most have not been tested on human subjects for efficacy or safety. (13)
Potential Health Benefits of Echinacea
Results from laboratory and animal studies indicate echinacea contains active compounds that may have natural antiviral and antioxidant properties to help promote healthy immune function and temporarily relieve symptoms of pain and inflammation. Some people take echinacea herbal supplements at the first sign of a cold in an attempt to speed recovery or as a daily preventative measure to help maintain good health. There are trials that show promising results regarding these tactics and others showing no benefits whatsoever. (14)
Herbalists have still been known to recommend echinacea for people with urinary tract infections, vaginal yeast (candida) infections, ear infections, athlete’s foot, sinusitis, hay fever, and slow-healing wounds. However, since there is no evidence that echinacea products work on humans, it is up to you to try it for yourself and see if it makes a difference to your health. (15)
Echinacea can be taken as a dietary supplement or an herbal tea to promote a healthy immune system. It may temporarily relieve symptoms related to seasonal challenges like colds, coughs, runny noses, or sinus and ear infections. When used in conjunction with other herbal ingredients, such as goldenseal or astragalus, echinacea may further provide short-term immune system support. In fact, three popular herbal immune stimulants – echinacea, ginseng, and astragalus – were studied clinically and show some satisfactory immune-stimulating activity. (16)
Echinacea and goldenseal are commonly found in herbal blends for dual-support for immune system function, healthy sinuses, and healthy lungs. Results from clinical trials suggest that people who took echinacea at the early onset of a cold or flu reported having less severe symptoms than those who did not take the herb. Additionally, drinking echinacea tea has been found to help shorten the duration of flu symptoms. (17) Echinacea may also shorten the duration of a cold by 1–4 days. (18) Another study found that people with a runny nose, scratchy throat, or fever who drank echinacea tea every day for 5 days reported feeling better sooner than those who did not drink the tea. (19)
The antioxidant properties of echinacea tea have been found to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and blood pressure levels already in the normal range. (20) Since echinaceas contain antioxidants that destroy free radicals that would normally contribute to aging and cellular damage. As such, echinacea may help support healthy cell growth in the body. (21) A clinical study found that the biologically active compounds in echinacea work with your body to keep its inflammation response down, helping the body naturally heal and calm inflammation-related issues. (22)
While not all scientific communities completely agree with this claim, researchers are again seeking to validate echinacea’s usefulness as a modern medicinal aid.
Potential Benefits of Echinacea
- Supports immune system health
- Promotes a healthy internal response
- Provides antioxidant support
- Supports healthy-looking skin and wound healing
- Provides temporary relief of symptoms related to seasonal health challenges
- Supports respiratory system health, healthy sinuses, and lungs
How to Buy Echinacea
Doses – Adults
Adults normally take dietary supplements of 300 mg to 500 mg of echinacea three times daily (900 mg to 1,500 mg total per day), but do not exceed 10 days of usage. DO NOT take echinacea on an empty stomach. Instead, take it with food or water. Tinctures are typically taken 2.5 mL three times a day or up to 10 mL daily. Apply creams or ointments as needed. (23, 24)
Doses – Pediatric
Consult with your child’s healthcare provider to determine pediatric dosing, but be sure to use alcohol-free products. No matter what product you try, also be sure to follow instructions on the label to avoid misuse.
Potential Side Effects
For most people, short-term use of echinacea is normally safe if taken orally, but long-term use is uncertain. Possible side effects may include nausea, stomach pain, rashes, or allergic reactions. People who are allergic to any plant in the daisy family should not use echinacea products. Always inform your healthcare provider of any supplements you are thinking about adding to your health care regimen. (25)
Shopping for Echinacea
Echinacea supplements can be found over-the-counter at grocery stores, drug stores, and natural health food stores. However, be careful when shopping for such supplements, since some echinacea products on the commercial market may be contaminated with toxins or heavy metals such as selenium, arsenic, or lead. Other products may be mislabeled and may not necessarily contain quality ingredients. That’s why it’s important to shop with a trusted natural health company, such as NaturalHealthyConcepts.com, which has already vetted its echinacea products for high-quality formulas that meet safety and good manufacturing standards. (26)
Whichever form you try, NaturalHealthyConcepts.com offers a wide range of products from trusted brands. We offer pure isolated echinacea supplements, blends for added herbal support, and more. Shop our selection of echinacea products and see if it makes a difference to your health today! Domestic orders receive free shipping.