Echinacea (E. angustifolia, E. purpurea, E. pallida.) are plants related to sunflowers and ragweed. The leaves and roots are used therapeutically. Its use is very popular around the world and has a long history of traditional use. Echinacea is most commonly used to fight inflammation and infection caused by bacteria or viruses. Its action in the body stimulates white blood cells. It also benefits the lymphatic system. Its use is suggested for colds and flu and other infectious diseases. Energetically, Echinacea is cooling in nature and is used for signs of heat, most notably infections. Because it stimulates body secretions, it is also drying in nature. Its powerful antioxidant action may play a role in lowering the risk of developing several diseases, including heart disease and cancer. It is available in many forms such as tablets, tinctures, extracts and teas.
Studies show Echinacea
to speed recovery from an active infection. Immune cells were increased in the spleens of mice to perpetuate immune function and resilience to disease [i]. Similarly, another confirmed the proliferation of white blood cells and enhanced action of natural killer cells in mice given Echinacea extract [ii]. Various conditions involving infection such as acne, boils, gingivitis and abscesses have been seen to improve with Echinacea
[iii] [iv]. For skin conditions such as acne echinacea may be used to reduce inflammation. Herbalists regularly use Echinacea
as part of a formula for addressing urinary tract infections.
Inflammation and pain:
Active compounds in Echinacea, such as caffeic acid, alkamides, phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid, polyacetylenes contribute to the anti-inflammatory action [v].
The lymphatic system is responsible for eliminating cellular waste, storing and distributing fat and fat-soluble vitamins from the digestive system, transporting white blood cells to assist in immune functioning, and removing interstitial fluid from tissues to minimise swelling. It is a vital system, yet often overlooked. Echinacea
promotes the flow of lymph and increases lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) to address swollen lymphatic glands [vi].
Prevalent antioxidants in Echinacea are flavonoids, cichoric acid and rosmarinic acid [vii]. Oxidative stress causes damage to our tissues and eventually leads to disease if unmanaged. Echinacea
also contains alkamides, which helps to regenerate antioxidants, and therefore increase their capacity for fighting oxidative stress in the body [viii].
Cautions for use:
This herb should be used with caution in those who are allergic to ragweed or plants in the sunflower family. In rare cases, Echinacea can be associated with allergic reactions that may be severe or exacerbate asthma. Prolonged use may alter gut microflora, which may cause intestinal symptoms in some people [ix].
There are potential interactions between Echinacea and certain medications; including, yet not limited to blood pressure medications such as amlodipine, immune suppressants such as prednisone, and statin medications such as atorvastatin. Please check with your prescribing doctor prior to taking Echinacea if you are currently taking medication.
Popular opinion amongst practitioners is that Echinacea should not be taken for prolonged periods of time in people with immune disorders, as this herb stimulates the immune system.
For external use, a freeze-dried form or non-alcohol containing extract is preferential.
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