Echinacea Herb

Echinacea Purpurea

This member of the Compositor (daisy) family, sometimes referred to as Purple Cone flower, was popularized by European research commencing in 1939 conducted primarily on the fresh pressed aerial portions of the flowering plant. Echinacea purpurea is scarce in the wild but is considered native to Arkansas and Missouri and traveled eastward after 1968. It is drought and disease tolerant and therefore very easy to cultivate. All Echinacea purpurea currently used in commercial preparations is cultivated.

Echinacea is an herb that is native to areas east of the Rocky Mountains in the United States. It is also grown in western States, as well as in Canada and Europe. Several species of the echinacea plant are used to make medicine from its leaves, flower, and root. Echinacea was used in traditional herbal remedies by the Great Plains Indian tribes. Later, settlers followed the Indians’ example and began using echinacea for medicinal purposes as well. For a time, echinacea enjoyed official status as a result of being listed in the US National Formulary from 1916-1950. However, use of echinacea fell out of favor in the United States with the discovery of antibiotics. But now, people are becoming interested in echinacea again because some antibiotics don’t work as well as they used to against certain bacteria.

Echinacea is most commonly used for the common cold and other infections.

Commercially available echinacea products come in many forms including tablets, juice, and tea.

There are concerns about the quality of some echinacea products on the market. Echinacea products are frequently mislabeled, and some may not even contain echinacea, despite label claims. Don’t be fooled by the term “standardized.” It doesn’t necessarily indicate accurate labeling. Also, some echinacea products have been contaminated with selenium, arsenic, and lead.

What is Echinacea Purpurea Used for?

There are distinct functions to differentiate depending on the part of the plant being used. Gaia Herbs has extensively researched the activity of the seeds, flowering tops in several phases of development and the roots through a grant sponsored by the National Centers for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. It is important to look for and use products that have been tested for activity and list either Alkylamides or Polysaccharide content on the label, as these constituents are relatively unstable and need to be prepared and delivered properly to maximize efficacy. The flowers when harvested in their early developmental phase contain Arabinogalactin Proteins and Polyacrylamide. These chemicals support ongoing immune function and are best-used long term for supporting the immune system. The roots harvested in the fall contain large amounts of Alkylamides and support a healthy inflammatory response in the sinuses and are best used at onset, not for long-term use.

Benefits, uses, and side effects of echinacea

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Echinacea is a very popular herb, and people commonly take it to help combat flu and colds. It is a genus of herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family – Asteraceae. It is also known as the American cone flower.

Echinacea is available over the counter (OTC) at pharmacies, health shops, and online as teas, liquid extracts, a dried herb, and as capsules or pills.

Promoters of echinacea say that the herb encourages the immune system and reduces many of the symptoms of colds, flu and some other illnesses, infections, and conditions.

Echinacea is a perennial plant, meaning it lasts for many years. It is approximately 1-2 feet (30-60 centimeters) tall when mature. It is slightly spiky and has large purple to pink flowers, depending on the species.

The center of the flower has a seed head (cone), which is also spiky and dark brown to red in color.

Benefits and uses

Today, Echinacea is used widely all over the world for a range of illnesses, infections, and conditions. Below is a list of some of these uses.

Apart from some studies quoted earlier on in this article, most of the benefits are anecdotal, and, in most cases, are not proven scientifically.

Side effects

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) warn consumers to be careful regarding some echinacea products that are on the market.

Echinacea products are commonly mislabeled; some have been tested and found to have no echinacea in them at all. The term “standardized” may sound impressive, but has no real meaning, the NIH emphasize.

Laboratory tests have shown that some echinacea products are tainted with arsenic, lead or selenium.

Herbal remedies are not regulated in most countries, including the USA and UK, in the same way that medications are. This can mean that a herbal remedy, such as Echinacea, that is purchased at a drugstore might not contain what the label claims.

Marketers of natural products tend to promote how harmless they are in comparison to man-made ones. It is important to remember that “natural” means it exists in, or is derived from, nature. “Natural” does not mean that it is harmless.

  • Deadly nightshade (Atropa belladonna), is one of the most toxic plants in the Western hemisphere. Also known as belladonna, devil’s cherry and dwale.
  • Apple seeds. They contain small quantities of amygdalin, a cyanogenic glycoside. If you swallowed all the pips from one apple, there would not be enough poison to harm you. However, if you kept eating mouthfuls, you would eventually reach a fatal dose.
  • Rhubarb. The stalks are edible, but the leaves contain oxalic acid, which can cause severe kidney disorders, convulsions, and even coma.
  • Daffodil (Narcissus). The bulbs are toxic and can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. If enough is consumed, it can be fatal. The stems are also toxic and can cause blurred vision, vomiting, and headaches.
  • Cicuta. also known as water hemlock, cow bane, or poison parsnip, is a highly poisonous plant that can kill humans if consumed. It has high levels of cicutoxin, which is a potent toxin.

High in Antioxidants

Echinacea plants are loaded with plant compounds that function as antioxidants.

Antioxidants are molecules that help defend your cells against oxidative stress, a state that has been linked to chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and many others.

Some of these antioxidants are flavonoids, cichoric acid and rosmarinic acid (3Trusted Source).

These antioxidants appear to be higher in extracts from the fruit and flowers of the plants, compared to other parts, such as the leaves and root

In addition, echinacea plants contain compounds called alkamides, which can further enhance antioxidant activity. Alkamides can renew worn-out antioxidants and help antioxidants better reach molecules that are prone to oxidative stress

Positive Effect on the Immune System

Echinacea is best known for its beneficial effects on the immune system.

Numerous studies have found that this plant may help your immune system combat infections and viruses, which could help you recover faster from illness (8Trusted Source, 9Trusted Source, 10Trusted Source).

That’s one reason why echinacea is often used to prevent or treat the common cold.

In fact, a review of 14 studies found that taking echinacea may lower the risk of developing colds by more than 50% and shorten the duration of colds by one and a half days (11Trusted Source).

However, many studies on this topic are poorly designed and show no real benefit. This makes it hard to know if any benefits on colds are from taking echinacea or simply from chance (12Trusted Source).

In short, while echinacea may boost immunity, its effects on the common cold are unclear.

May Lower Blood Sugar Levels

High blood sugar can raise your risk of serious health problems.

This includes type 2 diabetes, heart disease and several other chronic conditions.

Test-tube studies have found that echinacea plants may help lower blood sugar levels.

In a test-tube study, an Echinacea purpurea extract was shown to suppress enzymes that digest carbohydrates. This would reduce the amount of sugar entering your blood if consumed (13Trusted Source).

Other test-tube studies found that echinacea extracts made cells more sensitive to insulin’s effects by activating the PAR-y receptor, a common target of diabetes drugs (14Trusted Source, 15).

This particular receptor works by removing excess fat in the blood, which is a risk factor for insulin resistance. This makes it easier for cells to respond to insulin and sugar (16Trusted Source).

Still, human-based research on the effects of echinacea on blood sugar is lacking.

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