Echinacea

Botanical Name(s):

Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia, E. pallida. Family: Asteraceae

Other Name(s):

black sampson, purple coneflower, rudbeckia, sampson root

General Description:

Echinacea, most commonly known as purple coneflower, is a flowering plant native to North America. It is the most popular herb in the United States, generating more than $300 million in sales annually. The plant is harvested at flowering time; all parts are used except the roots.

Echinacea usually refers to a mix of two plants that exert pharmacological activity: E. angustifolia and E. purpurea. A broad spectrum of chemical compounds (notably caffeic acid glycoside and chicoric acid) in the plants stimulates the immune system and has anti-inflammatory activities.

Medically Valid Uses:

Currently, no clearly documented, valid studies support the use of echinacea.

Unsubstantiated Claims:

Please note that this section reports on claims that have NOT yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

Native Americans used the leaves and roots of the echinacea plant to treat toothaches, snakebites, insect bites and other skin wounds.

Echinacea is used to prevent and treat upper-respiratory infections (URIs) and to aid in wound healing. It may decrease the symptoms and duration of flu-like illness and the recurrence of URIs.

Echinacea has also been used as an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial agent (helps the body destroy or resist pathogenic microorganisms). Echinacea is claimed to be useful for treating fever, colic, coughs, bronchitis, urinary tract infections, sore throats and flu.

Dosing Format:

Echinacea is available in many forms, including fresh, freeze-dried, dried, alcohol-based extract, liquid, tincture, tea, capsules and salve.

Echinacea's effectiveness as an immune strengthener decreases when taken for long periods of time. Use it for a maximum of 2 to 3 weeks at a time. Unless otherwise prescribed or directed on the label, the dosage is 6 to 9 ml of expressed juice or equivalent preparations.

Use echinacea at the first sign of illness or when trying to get rid of an illness. Echinacea should not be injected or administered intravenously in pregnant women, people with diabetes or people with allergies.

Side Effects, Toxicity and Interactions:

Fever, nausea, and vomiting can occur when using echinacea.

These are contraindications for use: 

  • Do not use echinacea in any form if you are pregnant or breast-feeding.

  • Do not use echinacea if you have a progressive systemic disease such as tuberculosis, collagen vascular disease or multiple sclerosis.

  • Do not use echinacea if you are allergic to plants in the sunflower family.

  • Do not inject or take echinacea intravenously if you have diabetes.

There are no known significant food or drug interactions associated with echinacea.

Additional Information:

Click here for a list of reputable Web sites with general information on nutrition.

References:

  1. Melchart D, Linke K, Worku F, Bauer R, Wagner H. Immunomodulation with Echinacea: a systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Phytomedicine. 1994;1:245-254.

  2. Gruenwald J, Brendler T, Jaenicke C, eds. PDR for Herbal Medicines. Montvale, NJ: Medical Economics Company; 1998.

  3. Blumenthal M, Gruenwald J, Hall T, Rister RS, eds. German Commission E Monographs. Austin, TX: American Botanical Council; 1997.

  4. The US Department of Agriculture publications.

  5. Robbers JE, Tyler VE. Tyler's Herbs of Choice: The therapeutic use of phytomedicinals. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press; 1999.

  6. Dr. Duke's phytochemical and ethnobotanical databases. Agricultural research service, Duke University.

  7. O'Hara M, Kiefer D, Farrell K, Kemper K. A review of 12 commonly used medicinal herbs. Arch Fam Med. 1998;7:523-536.

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