Echinacea Medicinal Profile: The All-American Soldier

Echinacea is a classic native prairie wildflower in the sunflower family. This medicinal plant of the west only occurs naturally in North America. It was once utilized by many native North American Plains tribes as a dependable ally. Echinacea is a natural immune-enhancing fighter that builds the body’s defenses against multiple infections and illnesses.

Medicinal Preparation:

  • Take orally as a tincture, tea, capsule, tablet, or powdered.
  • Use topically as a compress, poultice, salve, mouthwash, gargle, throat spray, or as a bath.
  • Use as a short-term herb: take in frequent small doses to boost immunity at the first sign of a cold, flu, or other infection. It’s effectiveness will decrease if it is used continuously. It is best to use it in cycles (take for 5 days, stop for 2 days, and repeat as needed).
Echinacea Harvest

Medicinal Uses:

  • to prevent or shorten the duration of upper respiratory tract infections
  • immuno-stimulant (enhance immune functions)
  • antiviral
  • antiseptic
  • to treat skin inflammatory conditions (skin rashes, irritations)
  • anti-inflammatory (internally and externally)
  • eczema, psoriasis, and acne
  • antibacterial
  • anti-fungal
  • irritation of the gums and mouth (including canker sores)
  • gingivitis (gum inflammation)
  • sore gums, mouth inflammation, and mouth ulcers
  • oral thrush
  • conjunctivitis
  • bee and wasp stings
  • insect stings and spider bites
  • antivenin
  • fungus on skin/feet/nails
  • ringworm
  • to ward off colds and Influenza (flu)
  • toothaches
  • use after injury or surgery
  • burns
  • promotes growth of new skin cells
  • to shorten the duration of an infectious illness
  • antioxidant
  • alterative (blood cleanser)
  • lymphagogue (moves the lymphatic system)
  • vulnerary (wound healer)
  • antimicrobial
  • to wash infected skin rashes, cuts, and wounds
  • low white blood cell count related to chemotherapy
  • sinusitis, tonsillitis, and bronchitis
  • swollen lymph glands
  • recurrent boils
  • sore throat, hoarseness, and strep throat
  • earaches and ear infections
  • during fevers
  • assist the body in healing during poison ivy/oak (or any contact dermatitis)
  • take orally and topical for warts
  • during chicken pox, measles, impetigo, staph-related skin infections, herpes, shingles, other skin eruptions
  • during yeast and other vaginal infections
  • prostatitis and other prostate issues
  • digestive infections
  • bladder infections
Butterfly on Echinacea

Science Stuff: Echinacea is one of the most well-studied herbs in herbal medicine today. The three top varieties of Echinacea used for medicinal purposes are E. purpurea, E. angustifolia, and E. pallida. The roots, seeds, leaves, and flowers are all medicinal and can be made into a immune-stimulating tea or tincture. Echinacea can shorten the duration of an illness. It is also helpful after injury or surgery to stimulate macrophages; which are specialized white blood cells that “eat” not only pathogens, but also dead or damaged tissue. Immunostimulants, like Echinacea, can help clear the way for healthy tissue to form in areas of the body that have been damaged. The flowering tops of Echinacea contain the same chemical constituents as the root, plus volatile oil components not found in the root. Alkylamides are a group of potent molecules that play a part in its immunostimulatory qualities. Because of the numbing sensation produced by alkylamides in the root, a piece of the root can be chewed or held in the mouth to treat a toothache or enlarged glands (such as mumps). Burns have also been treated with the juice from the plant, which was reported to relieve pain. The constituents found in Echinacea (polysaccharides, isobutylamides, caffeic acids) have been shown to support the body’s immune response, reducing inflammation, increasing white blood cells, and aiding in the destruction and removal of unwanted bacteria, fungus, and viruses. Other key constituents are echinacoside, sesquiterpenes, tannins, linoleic acid, beta-carotene, and vitamin C. Echinacea is regarded as the champion of immunostimulant herbs. Several studies have confirmed the effectiveness of this herb as a preventative tonic that builds the body’s defenses against bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. Echinacea is an immune system booster that helps the body’s resistance at early stages of infection. It activates chemicals in the body that decrease inflammation, which reduces cold and flu symptoms. Echinacea also contains chemicals that can attack yeast and other kinds of fungi directly. Echinacea is alcohol soluble, so it works better as a tincture instead of a tea. It was listed in the US National Formulary until 1950. However, this once popular herb fell out of favor in the United States with the introduction of antibiotics. It is not known to have any side effects or residual buildup in the body. Echinacea works by increasing macro-phage T-cell activity, thereby boosting the body’s first line of defense against colds, flu, and many other illnesses. Echinacea increases the number and activity of white blood cells. It helps in cleansing the lymphatic system, supporting resistance to underlying infection, and improving overall vitality. Since it is rich with polysaccharides, it helps protect cells against invasion by viruses and bacteria. Echinacea promotes growth of new skin cells, so it is perfect to use after injury or surgery. Research has also looked into Echinacea as a treatment for colon cancer. The results showed that it can effectively induce apoptosis in colon cancer cells. There have been a few studies that found taking Echinacea supplements in combination with a topical anti-fungal cream was effective in preventing recurrent vaginal yeast infections.

Precautions and Contraindications:

Echinacea is not known to have any side effects or residual buildup in the body. It is safe for children and the elderly.

Anyone with an autoimmune condition should talk with their healthcare provider before taking an immune-booting herb, like Echinacea. It may inhibit certain liver enzymes, theoretically increasing blood levels of medications such as itraconazole, lovastatin, fexofenadine, clarithromycin, cyclosporine, diltiazem, estrogens, indinavir, triazolam, clozapine, cyclobenzaprine, fluvoxamine, haloperidol, imipramine, mexiletine, olanzapine, pentazocine, propranolol, tacrine, theophylline, zileuton, and zolmitriptan.

Taking Echinacea along with medications that decrease the immune system might decrease the effectiveness of those medications. Some medications that decrease the immune system include azathioprine, basiliximab, cyclosporine, muromonab-CD3, mycophenolate, tacrolimus, prednisone, and corticosteroids.

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