Echinacea is one of the most popular herbs bought over the counter. UK Retailers have reported an extra surge this year – even more than the usual seasonal demand – as customers stock up to fight off ‘flu, and other Winter ailments.
One leading UK company was selling 5 times its usual weekly average during early January. A busy UK health food store said; “we bought enough echinacea for Christmas and the New Year – but sold out within 72 hours”.
So what makes echinacea so popular. And is it partly hype?
It’s certainly not the catchy name, which many people struggle to pronounce, that has made it popular! (It’s eck-in-ay- cia, if you want to be sure.) No – the reason for its popularity is, it works!
The public know what they’re doing
If a remedy for ‘flu and coughs and colds sells like wildfire, year after year, you know it’s got to be effective. When people buy echinacea they want to see results within hours or days. If it wasn’t reliable, they’d stop buying it pretty quickly!
Is echinacea a wonder cure?
Echinacea is one among many herbal immune system cleansers.
So what sets echinacea apart from these other herbal immune system boosters?
It is echinacea’s power.
In herbal terms, echinacea is ‘stimulating’, and is an ‘alterative’.
Its stimulating effect means that it boosts a weakened body, and helps give the immune system the energy to fight off an infection.
An alterative is a herbal term which means ‘alters disease processes’. In other words, it ‘persuades’ the body to change its path from sickness towards health.
Other herbs have this ‘alterative’ property – eg burdock and red clover; but NONE combines the ‘alterative’ property with an ‘immune system booster’ as does echinacea. This is echinacea’s secret.
We have the Native Americans to thank
Echinacea is one of the main herbs introduced to us by Native American. They have used it for centuries for all manner of treatment – such as snake bites, and treating wounds.
Echinacea’s use for healing wounds has been highlighted by Douglas Schar – a specialist in disease-preventing medicinal plants – in the British Journal of Phytotherapy (vol 5/2 1998). In this article he says that wound management is a huge problem in hospitals. It’s a problem not only after surgery, but also with cases of bed sores, leg ulcers, and in many other situations.
Schar further says: “echinacea angustifolia’s use as a wound healing agent seems to have been entirely forgotten… and needs to be resurrected.”
The ‘Eclectic’ herbalists (a herbal group of the early 20th century) made great use of echinacea. In fact, they claimed it was they who discovered echinacea angustifolia – not the Native Americans.
One of the ‘Eclectic’s’ leaders – Finley Ellingwood – highlighted the importance of using the ‘angustifolia’ variety, rather than the inferior ‘purpurea’. He then mentions several instances in which echinacea angustifolia was used directly on sores with excellent benefits. He says:
“In bed sores, fever sores and chronic ulcerations it is exceedingly useful. It is diluted and applied directly, while it is given internally. It is of much value in old tibial (leg) ulcers… and specific skin disorders.”
Are herbs safe to put directly onto a wound?
You may be thinking – “would I really want to powder echinacea or another washed and dried herb root, and pour it on to an open wound? Sounds crazy. You’d get an infection! All I can say is – I’ve done it many times, and never had a problem!
If I had a wound I wouldn’t hesitate to pour echinacea onto it and bandage it on. I would probably combine it with a couple of other herbs – garlic and cayenne pepper would be good, and both are easily available. The proportions of around six parts of echinacea angustifolia to one each of the other two herbs would be fine. To make the mixture more mobile, it could be mixed into a chemical-free ointment (such as comfrey ointment), or even mixed with some olive oil.
I would probably use a low-aroma variety of garlic powder in this mixture – though any garlic would do well. Cayenne pepper is the type sold at any grocer or supermarket; though from a herbal supplier, it will be fresher.
I have used a mixture like this on open wounds on a number of occasions. In all cases when I have used it, healing has been fast and sure. I have never used antiseptic ointment, or any other drugs in such cases, and would not dream of doing so.
Chopped off end of thumb re-grew like magic!
In one case – with the addition of some comfrey Root powder to the mix (comfrey stimulates natural cell growth) – a chunk of thumb which had been sliced off with a craft knife (painful!) completely re-grew within six weeks. This was after a hospital had tried – unsuccessfully – to sew the said piece of thumb back on. After the six weeks, healing was complete. Scarcely any scar tissue was – or is visible!
It is recommended that the herbal dressing – which is bandaged on -should be changed daily. But I know of one case where this was not done (where a finger was cut through to the bone) – and the healing was still sure, fast and effective! (I recommend more careful attention – this person was just a ‘bad’ patient!)
So why don’t doctors and surgeons use herbs in this way?
Erm… hard one, that! It’s a question which used to trouble me early in my career. Are they stupid? Are they mislead? Are they pressured and too busy? Do their brains work? Are they worried about the insurance implications? Are they just control freaks? Haven’t they read the “Hippocratic Oath” – which says they have to do all they can to help their patients?
I still don’t really understand it. But more and more doctors are coming round to holistic thinking – slowly. The bottom line is, people who become doctors tend not to believe anything unless it’s been researched into the ground. The trouble is, such methods are often not appropriate for alternative therapy.
Similarly – when these methods of testing are used – ie for drugs – the resulting substances often have terrible side-effects – which most medics call ‘acceptable’. Then many of them say herbs should be tested because they are potentially so dangerous! Clearly, “double blind placebo based” or similar testing is not the ideal measure of a good – or safe – medicine.
One day, we may work together ….
Like any herb – echinacea angustifolia should not be over-used. Firstly, you may get too used to it, so that it does not work so effectively when you need it.
Secondly – think ‘ecology’! It is already very popular, and we are running out of the plants! Echinacea angustifolia is not easy to grow commercially – so there is always the risk of it becoming an endangered species.
In any case, we do not recommend daily use of this herb throughout the year. If you need an immune system boost all the time, alternate with other herbs – such as garlic, pau d’arco or cat’s claw.
There have been cautions against taking Echinacea in various conditions – eg HIV/Aids. These are dismissed as mis-understandings of the effects of the polysaccharides in echinacea, by respected herbalist and research chemist Kerry Bone in the British Journal of Phytotherapy (vol 5/1).
Of course – you can have too much of a good thing. Some herbalists say you should only use echinacea for 2 or 3 weeks at a time, then have a rest for a week or two. We think, though, that a 3 month course of echinacea is fine for the immune system.
The cases of sensitivity (‘allergy’) to echinacea are very few, and it has no known toxic effect – ie it seems that you cannot overdose on it.
So keep some echinacea handy!
Dosage of echinacea
Capsules – 1-2 capsules of echinacea, 3 times a day. During an infection, you can double these amounts – at the first sign. As an autumn boost to prevent winter problems – 1 capsule of echinacea, 3 times a day for 3 months.
Drops – There are two types of herbal echinacea drops – tincture, and fluid extract. The difference is that 1 litre of fluid extract is equivalent to 1 kilo of echinacea herb; whereas 1 litre of tincture is equivalent to 250-300 grammes of herb. In other words – a fluid extract is 3-4 times stronger than a tincture. Some would argue about the benefits of fresh herb in tincture…etc, etc – but these are the basic facts.
We recommend using 10-15 drops of echinacea fluid extract 3 times a day in a little juice or water. Double this if you have any sort of infection. Also, apply the drops externally liberally where you have a cut, spot, or other blemish.
The best anti-virus herb
Although I have written a lot here about echinacea angustifloia and external wounds, its reputation as a herb to treat any bacterial – and especially viral – infections is well justified. And you may know, doctors have no treatment for infections by a virus, apart from inoculations – with their widely documented side-effects.
A ‘king’ among herbs
I hope you can see that echinacea is a very, very valuable herb. Use it internally, use it externally; use it in capsules, or in drops. Keep some in the medicine cabinet – you never know when you might need it!
Echinacea angustifolia’s tremendous popularity is certainly justified – and I have not doubt it will continue for centuries to come.