The Wonders of Echinacea
by Rev. Laura Perry, MSNH

The Wonders of Echinacea
by Rev. Laura Perry, MSNH

What is hard to pronounce, still listed as a weed in most gardening books, and now the most popular medicinal herb in the U.S.? Echinacea! (Say eck-i-NAY-shuh). This lovely purple coneflower, one of North America’s native wildflowers, has been used medicinally for centuries by Native Americans as well as European settlers. Now it is available commercially in many different forms.

Echinacea is one of the safest herbs in use today. There are three main species of echinacea available commercially as herbal supplements. The most common of these is Echinacea purpurea, the “standard” purple coneflower. The other two species are Echinacea angustifolia, also a purple coneflower, and Echinacea pallida, a pale lavender version.

The root of Echinacea angustifolia loses is potency quickly when dried, so it must be used immediately after digging or made into a tincture while still fresh. Capsules and teas are, by their nature, made of dried plant matter, so stick with the E. purpurea and E. pallida species in these forms. Tinctures that include E. angustifolia should note on the label that they are made with the fresh (not dried) root for the greatest potency. Preparations containing the whole echinacea herb (the above-ground part of the plant) in addition to the root are the most effective, though the ones containing just the root still work well for most people.

This useful herb is popular as a remedy for colds and flu-type viruses. It acts on the body’s immune system, raising the number of white blood cells and increasing their ability to destroy invading microbes. Because echinacea increases the body’s immune response, people who have autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma and type I diabetes are generally cautioned against using it.

Echinacea can be helpful in conditions that include impaired immune response, such as chronic fatigue syndrome, AIDS and depression. In these cases it is most beneficial to take 1 to 3 doses a day for extended periods of time. Take echinacea daily for 2 weeks and then take a week off, and repeat the cycle, for the greatest benefit. This “pulsing” of the herb allows it to stimulate your immune system without your body becoming resistant to its effects.

Echinacea has been widely tested, both in the U.S. and in Europe, and is clearly effective at shortening the duration of the common cold and increasing the body’s immune response to infection. Echinacea may have a greater affect on the immune system when taken at the very beginning of an illness rather than daily as a preventive. But taken at the first onset of symptoms, echinacea is a highly effective, safe herbal treatment for colds, flu-type viruses and respiratory illnesses.

Echinacea is commonly available as a tincture, in capsules and as a tea. Each of these forms has different characteristics and dosages, but they work equally well for fending off illness and helping your body heal itself. The label on your herbs will include a recommended adult dose (2 capsules or 20-40 drops of tincture, for instance). If you feel an illness coming on or are already sick, take frequent doses throughout the day (as often as every hour if you like) until you feel your symptoms beginning to abate. Then take 3 to 5 doses a day until you are over the illness.

If you are using an echinacea tincture and you take it directly in your mouth rather than mixed in a beverage, it should cause your tongue to tingle and go numb for a minute or two. This is normal and lets you know that your tincture is potent and was made properly.

Echinacea is a useful herbal ally, one that is safe and effective. Use this native North American plant to help your body combat illness and improve your overall health.

Rev. Laura Perry, MSNH, is a Holistic Health Consultant in Woodstock, Georgia. Contact her at mamalaura@earthlink.net, at 678-445-0357 or visit her website at www.au-naturel.net

 


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