What is Echinacea?
Echinacea is commonly called Purple Coneflower native to eastern and central North America. Echinacea is also known as the American cone flower, black Susan, black Sampson, comb flower, hedgehog, Indian head, Kansas snakeroot, narrow-leaved purple coneflower, scurvy root, and snakeroot. Some species are used in herbal medicines.
Echinacea is popularly believed to be an immunostimulator, stimulating the body's non-specific immune system and warding off infections. A common reference source for believers is a 2007 meta-analysis in The Lancet Infectious Diseases; however, this study fails to indicate important confounding factors that could drive the reported conclusion. The studies pooled in the meta-analysis used different types of echinacea, different parts of the plant, and various dosages. This review cannot inform recommendations on the efficacy of any particular type of echinacea, dosage, or treatment regimen. The safety of echinacea under long-term use is also unknown.
Echinacea root is the part which has been used historically in European and American herbalism. Today nearly all parts of the plant are used, including the root, leaves, flowers, and seeds. Echinacea is available commercially in a number of forms - dried root or herb, liquid extract, powder, capsules and tablets, and creams and gels. Echinacea preparations are approved drugs in European countries.
Echinacea angustifolia rhizome was used by North American Plains Indians, perhaps more than most other plants, for various herbal remedies.
Echinacea was one of the basic antimicrobial herbs of eclectic medicine from the mid 19th century through the early 20th century, and its use was documented for snakebite and anthrax. In the 1930s echinacea became popular in both Europe and America as an herbal medicine. When making herbal remedies, these phenols can serve as markers for the quantity of raw echinacea in the product. Other chemical constituents that may be important in echinacea health effects include alkylamides and polysaccharides.
As with any plant, the chemical makeup of echinacea is not consistent throughout the organism. In particular, the root has been promoted as containing a more efficacious mixture of active chemicals. A 2003 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that when echinacea products made from the entire plant were taken after the second cold symptom appeared they provided no measurable beneficial effect for children in treating the severity or duration of symptoms caused by the common cold virus. The study has been criticized for using whole-plant extracts instead of root extracts, and the dosages studied were lower than those recommended by herbalists. A 2005 study in the New England Journal of Medicine focused on several root extracts, but still found no statistically significant effects on duration, intensity, or prevention of symptoms.
Proponents of echinacea assert that it is not a "one-dose" treatment, and that in order to work effectively, a dose should be taken at the very first sign of a cold symptom. Subsequent doses are called for every two to four hours after the first dose, including during the overnight sleeping period, until the cold symptoms have disappeared.
What It Is Echinacea used For?
Echinacea has traditionally been used to treat or prevent colds, flu, and other infections. A University of Maryland concluded that echinacea, when taken at first sign of a cold, reduced cold symptoms or shortened their duration. The European Medicines Agency (EMEA) assessed the body of evidence and approved the use of expressed juice and dried expressed juice from fresh flowering aerial parts of Echinacea purpurea for the short-term prevention and treatment of the common cold. According to their recommendations, It should not be used for more than 10 days. The use in children below 1 year of age is contraindicated, because of theoretically possible undesirable effect on immature immune system. The use in children between 1 and 12 years of age is not recommended, because efficacy has not been sufficiently documented although specific risks are not documented. In the absence of sufficient data, the use in pregnancy and lactation is not recommended.
Echinacea is believed to stimulate the immune system to help fight infections.
Echinacea is said to facilitate wound healing, lessens symptoms of and speeds recovery from viruses. Anti-inflammatory effects make it useful externally against inflammatory skin conditions including psoriasis and eczema. It may also increase resistance to candida, bronchitis, herpes, and other infectious conditions.
Side effects of Echinacea
Reported adverse effects of echinacea include nausea, dizziness, dyspnea, rash, dermatitis, pruritis, and hepatotoxicity. These tend to be infrequent, mild, and transient. Echinacea should not be taken by persons with progressive systemic and auto-immune disorders, connective tissue disorders, or related diseases. It should not be used with immunosuppressants or hepatotoxic drugs, and has the potential to interfere with anesthesia.
With long-term use, echinacea appears to lose effectiveness. Maximum periods of continuous use: 6 - 8 weeks.
Echinacea is not a substitute for other medical interventions in rapidly accelerating infections.
Echinacea is not recommended for use by people with multiple sclerosis, white blood cell disorders, collagen disorders, HIV/AIDS, autoimmune disorders, or tuberculosis.
Echinacea has not been evaluated by the FDA for safety, effectiveness, or purity. All potential risks and/or advantages of echinacea may not be known.
Take the pill forms of echinacea with a full glass of water.
To ensure the correct dose, measure the liquid forms of echinacea with the dropper provided or with a dose-measuring spoon or cup.
Some forms of echinacea can be brewed to form a tea for drinking.
Use the topical forms of echinacea externally only. Do not use different formulations (e.g., tablets, topical formulations, teas, tinctures, and others) of echinacea at the same time, unless specifically directed to do so by a health care professional.
Using different formulations together increases the risk of an overdose of echinacea.
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