The medicinal herb Echinacea as an alternative herbal remedy to stimulate the immune system – There are nine known species of echinacea, all of which are native to the United States and southern Canada.
The most commonly used, Echinacea purpurea, is believed to be the most potent.
Common Names–echinacea, purple coneflower, coneflower, American coneflower
Latin Names–Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida Picture of Echinacea
- Echinacea has tall stems, bears single pink or purple flowers and has a central cone that is usually purplish-brown in color. The large cone is actually a seed head with sharp spines that resemble a stiff comb. Of nine echinacea species, only three are used for medicinal purposes ( Echinacea angustifolia , Echinacea pallida , and Echinacea purpurea ).
- One of the most popular herbs in America today is the Native American medicinal plant called echinacea. Named for the prickly scales in its large conical seed head, the herb resembles the spines of an angry hedgehog (echinos is Greek for hedgehog).
- Results of archeological digs indicate that Native Americans may have used echinacea for more than 400 years to treat infections and wounds and as a general “cure-all.” Throughout history people have used echinacea to treat scarlet fever, syphilis, malaria, blood poisoning, and diphtheria. Although this herb was popular during the 18th and 19th centuries, its use began to decline in the United States after the introduction of antibiotics. Echinacea preparations became increasingly popular in Germany throughout the 20th century. In fact, most of the scientific research on echinacea has been conducted in Germany.
- According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, today, people use echinacea to shorten the common cold and flu and reduce symptoms, such as sore throat (pharyngitis), cough, and fever. Many herbalists also recommend echinacea to help boost the immune system and help the body fight infections.
- Several laboratory and animal studies suggest that echinacea contains active substances that enhance the activity of the immune system, relieve pain, reduce inflammation, and have hormonal, antiviral, and antioxidant effects. For this reason, professional herbalists may recommend echinacea to treat urinary tract infections, vaginal yeast (candida) infections, ear infections (also known as otitis media), athlete’s foot, sinusitis, hay fever (also called allergic rhinitis), as well as slow-healing wounds.
What Echinacea Is Used For
- Echinacea has traditionally been an herbal remedy to treat or prevent colds, flu, and other infections.
- Echinacea is believed to stimulate the immune system to help fight infections.
How Echinacea Is Used
- The aboveground parts of the plant and roots of echinacea are used fresh or dried to make teas, squeezed (expressed) juice, extracts, or preparations for external use.
- What the Science Says about Echinacea
- Studies indicate that echinacea does not appear to prevent colds or other infections.
- Studies to date have not proven that echinacea shortens the course of colds or flu. For example, two NCCAM-funded studies did not find a benefit from echinacea, either as Echinacea purpurea fresh-pressed juice for treating colds in children, or as an unrefined mixture of
- Echinacea angustifolia root and Echinacea purpurea root and herb in adults.1,2 Other studies have shown that echinacea may be beneficial in treating upper respiratory infections.3
- NCCAM is continuing to support the study of echinacea for the treatment of upper respiratory infections.
Side Effects and Cautions about Echinacea
- When taken by mouth, echinacea usually does not cause side effects. However, some people experience allergic reactions, including rashes, increased asthma, and anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction). In clinical trials, gastrointestinal side effects were most common.
- People are more likely to experience allergic reactions to echinacea if they are allergic to related plants in the daisy family, which includes ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies. Also, people with asthma or atopy (a genetic tendency toward allergic reactions) may be more likely to have an allergic reaction when taking echinacea.
- It is important to inform your health care providers about any herb or dietary supplement you are using, including echinacea. This helps to ensure safe and coordinated care.
The use of herbs is a time-honored approach to strengthening the body and treating disease. However, herbs contain active substances that may trigger side effects and interact with other herbs, supplements, or medications. For these reasons, people should take herbs only under the supervision of a health care provider knowledgeable in the field of botanical medicine.
People with tuberculosis, leukemia, diabetes, connective tissue disorders, multiple sclerosis, HIV or AIDS, any autoimmune diseases, or, possibly, liver disorders should not take echinacea. There is some concern that echinacea may reduce the effectiveness of medications that suppress the immune system. For this reason, people receiving organ transplants who must take immunosuppressant medications should avoid this herb. (See “Possible Interactions.”)
In rare cases, echinacea may cause allergic reactions, ranging from a mild rash to anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction accompanied by throat tightening, shortness of breath, and, possibly, fainting). People with asthma and allergies may be at an increased risk for developing these adverse reactions. People with allergies to plants in the daisy family (compositae) should not take echinacea unless they do so under the supervision of a health care provider.
There has been one report of an individual developing erythema nodosum (a painful skin condition) after taking echinacea to treat the flu.
When taken by mouth, echinacea may cause temporary numbing and tingling on the tongue.
Despite concerns that echinacea may be unsafe for pregnant or breastfeeding women, evidence suggests that the use of echinacea during pregnancy does not increase the risk of birth defects or other pregnancy related health problems. Although not enough research has been done to determine echinacea’s safety for pregnancy or breastfeeding, it’s advisable to avoid use during pregnancy or breastfeeding until more conclusive studies are conducted.
Don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor if you have questions.
If you are taking any of the following medications, you should not use echinacea without first talking to your health care provider:
Econazole — Echinacea may be useful in combination with econazole, an antifungal agent used to treat yeast infections (such as athlete’s foot). When echinacea is used together with econazole, recurrence rates of these infections may be reduced.
Immunosuppressants — Immunosuppressants refers to a group of medications that are used for two main purposes — treating cancer and suppressing the immune system following organ transplant so that the new organ is not rejected. Because echinacea can enhance immune function, people should not use the herb with immunosuppressive medications, especially when taken for organ transplant.
- Source: http://www.umm.edu