Jan 27, 2013

Health Applications of Echinacea

Echinacea has been used as a medicinal plant for centuries. The Native American Indians used it to treat infections and wounds. European explorers learnt about its uses and brought it back to Europe to be studied for its applications to treat many ailments. More commonly today, Echinacea is used to treat and prevent the common cold although some studies have found that it has little effect.

In America today, Echinacea is one of the most popular supplements taken to treat many ailments. In Germany, Echinacea has been approved by the health authorities to treat wounds, urinary tract infections and upper respiratory tract infections. This article discusses the active properties of Echinacea, the types available, recommended dosages and side effects.

The Chemical and Nutrient Properties of Echinacea

There are three varieties of Echinacea plants used for their medicinal properties. The most commonly used variety and the strongest is Echinacea Purpurea. The other varieties are Echinacea Augustifolia and Echinacea Pallida. Both the root and the above ground parts of the plant are harvested for medicinal use. The chief chemical properties which are believed to be responsible for the plants application to treat many ailments are polysaccharides and alkamides.

It is also the source of the minerals potassium, magnesium, calcium, iron, selenium and zinc. It contains the vitamins C and B1, B2 and B4. It is the source of the phytochemicals beta-carotene, quercetin and rutin. All these unique properties promote its medicinal usages as a powerful antioxidant, antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antihistamine and immune system boosting potential.

The Health Benefits of Echinacea
  • Immune System Booster

    Echinacea is commonly used to treat infections. Some studies have shown that this supplement stimulates the production of white blood cells called leukocytes. Leukocytes are required to fight off harmful invading organisms in the body. Many people also believe that regularly taking Echinacea helps to prevent, reduce the frequency, reduce the severity and reduce recovery times of the common cough and cold.
  • Helps fight Herpes Simplex Virus 1 and 2

    Some animal studies have found that taking an Echinacea supplement in the form of capsules or as an herbal tea or applied as a tincture directly to the site of a herpes breakout, helps to kill off the herpes virus. Very few clinical studies have been performed on humans therefore it has not been confirmed as a treatment for herpes by health authorities.
  • Treatment for Wounds
    Echinacea ointment and creams applied directly to wounds has shown to accelerate healing and prevent infection. Some studies have shown that topical treatments of Echinacea help to reduce the amount of scarring post wounds. It is believed that the faster the wound heals the less scarring and wound complications. However, topical treatments of Echinacea to established scarring has shown no scar improvement.
  • Treatment for Inflammatory Conditions
    Echinacea has been shown to be effective in treating inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, psoriasis, eczema, tonsillitis and inflammatory bowel diseases. It helps to reduce the pain and swelling in these conditions. The polysaccharide components of this supplement help to reduce inflammation and promote tissue regeneration. The polysaccharides and alkamides stimulate the release of hormones from the adrenal cortex which also helps to fight off inflammation.
  • A Treatment for Some Types of Cancer

    Echinacea stimulates one of the immune system cells called macrophages to release a chemical that is toxic to tumor cells. It therefore helps to prevent cancer cells from forming and also helps to reduce the size and growth of cancer cells. It can however interfere with immunosuppressant treatments for cancer and hence is not for everybody undergoing cancer treatments.
  • Skin Treatment

    Echinacea is often a chief ingredient in many commercially available skin products. Its chemicals help to promote strong, healthy connective tissue which results in smooth, glowing skin.
Recommended Dosages

Echinacea as a supplement is available in the forms of tablets, capsules, liquids, ointments, tinctures and as an herbal tea. You should always follow the dosing information on the package as concentrations vary from product to product. Generally an adult can take 1 to 2 grams of dried herb as an herbal tea, three times a day for 10 days. Alternatively an adult can take 2 to 3mls of the herbal extract. Ointments for the treatment of wounds can be applied as required.

Side Effects

Generally Echinacea is well tolerated with few reported side effects. Uncommon side effects can include gastrointestinal disturbances, fever, drowsiness, headache, dizziness and muscular aches and pains. It can also cause an allergic reaction in some sensitive people and may interact with your current medications. Allergies to Echinacea are more common if you are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds and or daisies. Pregnant and breast feeding mums should not take Echinacea supplements. People who have been diagnosed with autoimmune disorders, HIV, Aids, tuberculosis, white blood cell disorders and or multiple sclerosis should not take this supplement. It is therefore recommended to always talk to your doctor before you commence taking any herbal supplement.

In conclusion, Echinacea has many health promoting benefits. Scientific studies are still being performed on this herb to this day for its applications for health. Millions of people world wide take this supplement daily and swear by its benefits to health. Some people believe it is a weight loss and blood pressure lowering herb also but these attributes have not been scientifically proven. Long term effects of taking Echinacea are not understood, therefore it is recommended to take it for a period of no more than 10 days before discontinuing for at least a month. Given that it has very few reported side effects, it can be considered a safe herbal supplement to include in your daily supplement regime.


Mayo Clinic Echinacea Retrieved November 9,2012
University of Maryland Medical Center Echinacea Retrieved November 9,2012
ABC Science Maggie Fox Echinacea may prevent colds, says study Retrieved November 9,2012


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