Echinacea is also known colloquially as the purple coneflower, and grows natively in North America.
It has for centuries been used as a treatment for a variety of health problems, and is still used today by top medical professionals as a supplement to or replacement for drug therapy.
Primarily, echinacea is believed to be effective in warding off various types infection, including the troublesome common cold (for which of course there is no current cure).
Traditionally, echinacea was used by the native North American Indians as a treatment for snakebite and anthrax poisoning, and its popularity spread across the Atlantic to many parts of Europe in the early decades of the twentieth century.
Like many medicines extracted directly from plants and largely unprocessed, the health benefits of echinacea are due to a number of different factors stemming from different aspects of its chemical makeup.
It is known to have certain antimicrobial properties, possibly due to its high phenol content, and also acts to stimulate the human immune system in different ways.
As well as phenols, echinacea contains polysaccharides and alkylamides, both known to have beneficial health effects for humans.
Useful for common cold
Numerous studies over many years have shown that echinacea can help prevent the onset of colds when taken regularly as a supplement, and that extract of the plant when taken during the early stages of a cold has been known to reduce the duration of the illness by up to a day and a half.
Many people swear by echinacea to protect them from the common cold, especially those who would be at increased risk of developing complications from the virus, such as the elderly and those with compromised immune systems.
Good for your stomach
Echinacea in its most simple, powdered form is somewhat troublesome to store properly, as its effectiveness in this state will naturally degenerate over a period of time.
Many healthcare professionals and advocates of echinacea recommend alcohol-based ‘tinctures’, which have two additional benefits over and above the simple powdered form.
Firstly, the alcohol-based version will keep for up to seven years whilst maintaining its effectiveness.
Secondly, the liquid form can be absorbed immediately through the tongue rather than digested in the stomach, which results in higher absorption rates and therefore a quicker, more powerful action.
As a treatment for the common cold, echinacea is on-going, meaning that a dose should be taken immediately upon the first onset of symptoms, and thereafter every two to four hours, including during the night, until symptoms have subsided.
Used for herbal therapy for pain killing
In addition to its role as a popular cold treatment, echinacea is known to be an immune system stimulant and effective pain relief medication.
It is taken as a natural herbal pain remedy by those who either cannot take traditional painkilling drugs, or simply prefer a natural solution.
Echinacea is also popular amongst athletes, some of whom swear by its ability to improve energy levels and concentration during a workout, and by many as a natural stimulant and alternative to caffeine, with fewer potential side-effects and none of the ‘jumpiness’ associated with that drug.
Recommended by medical experts
Due to its powerful antioxidant and antiviral properties, it is also variously recommended by healthcare specialists as either a preventative measure or treatment for infections (particularly of the ear, urinary tract, or reproductive system), hay fever and athlete’s foot.
It can also be used to speed the healing of flesh wounds and reduce the likelihood of secondary infection.
Some people swear by it as a treatment for common aches and pains associated with illness, and particularly as a treatment for a sore throat.
In this case, the herb is usually administered by brewing tea with powdered extract of echinacea.
Who cannot use Echinacea?
Echinacea is not recommended as a medical solution for patients with disorders of the autoimmune system, including collagenosis, leicosos, tuberculosis, and other connective tissue disorders.
It contains many active ingredients which give it its beneficial health properties, but these same active ingredients can cause problems for a minority of people with existing health problems.
If you suffer any unexpected side-effects after taking it, you should stop taking it and consult your doctor immediately.
Future prospect in medical science
The possible role of it as a future cancer treatment is currently under investigation, with early studies showing some interesting and positive results.
In particular, it has been shown that the herb may assist other anti-cancer drugs in performing their role to seek out and destroy cancerous cells and tumors.
However, more research is needed into this area before any firm conclusions can be drawn.
Availability and Final Words
Echinacea is typically available in its extract form, either as powder, pills, capsules, ointment, or alcohol-based tinctures.
It is also a popular addition to many multivitamin and general supplement formulas because of its wide spectrum of health benefits and preventative qualities.
The dosage will vary based on the form of the supplement.
Always read the label on echinacea supplements, and reduce the dosage appropriately for children.
Pregnant mothers should consult their physician if they regularly take echinacea either as a supplement or as a treatment for common medical conditions.