Echinacea

Welcome to the world of Echinacea!

Echinacea, also known as purple coneflower, is a member of the daisy family and is native to North America. It is the best known and researched herb for stimulating the immune system. Each year thousands of Europeans and Americans use Echinacea to fight colds, flu, minor infections and many other ailments. This herb, native to North America, has an impressive record of both laboratory and clinical research. There are two major species of Echinacea grown primarily for their medicinal properties: Echinacea Purpurea and Echinacea Angustifolia.

Echinacea plants have large, attractive flowers, are easy to grow, and will tolerate both humidity and extreme temperatures. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons the popularity of Echinacea continues to grow throughout the world.

Once you explore the world of Echinacea you'll love it as much as the rest of the world!!

—Echinacea research by Doria Dahl

History

Echinacea was used frequently by Native American Tribes for a wide variety of conditions. At least 14 tribes used Echinacea for ailments such as coughs, colds, sore throats, and infections. It was even used by the Dakotas as a veterinary medicine for their horses.

In 1887, Echinacea was introduced into U.S. medical practice, and it grew in popularity. By the early twentieth century Echinacea had become the top selling herb in America. However, with the discovery of penicillin and other "wonder drugs," the popularity of Echinacea eventually waned. Even though it continued to be used in America it fell completely into disuse in the 1930's after it was dismissed as worthless by the AMA.

In Europe, however, people began to grow and use Echinacea extensively. Germany in particular took a great interest in the herb. During the 1930s Dr. Gerhard Madaus, a German native, began researching and working with Echinacea. Madaus, the founder of Madaus AG and a leading herbal medicine manufacturer in Cologne, Germany, came to the United States in search of seeds from Echinacea Angustifolia, the form of Echinacea most widely used at that time. Madaus returned to Germany with seeds from Echinacea purpurea instead of Echinacea angustifolia. By default then, Echinacea purpurea became the subject of modern pharmacological studies by Madaus. As a result of Germany's great interest in the herb some of the best scientific studies to date have taken place there.

The result of Madaus' studies was the development of a product called Echinacin. Echinacin was a preparation of juice expressed from the flowers, leaves and stems of the Echinacea plant. This preparation is still available today in the United States and has become the most extensively researched and frequently prescribed Echinacea preparation in the world.


Benefits

Echinacea is best known for its immune enhancing ability, but has proven very effective in many other areas as well:

  1. Colds, coughs and flu and other upper respiratory conditions
  2. Enlarged lymph glands, sore throat
  3. Urinary tract infections
  4. Other minor infections
  5. May help combat herpes and candida
  6. Wounds, skin regeneration and skin infections (external use)
  7. Psoriasis, eczema and inflammatory skin conditions (external use)

Echinacea stimulates the immune system and it promotes T-cell activation while it increases the activity of the immune system. It helps white blood cells attack germs and these effects may decrease if taken for more than a few weeks.

Echinacea is generally not recommended for use by people with diseases of the immune system such as HIV, multiple sclerosis, or tuberculosis. The German government recommends against using Echinacea if you have these conditions. Some researchers believe that Echinacea could actually worsen these immune system problems.

Even though there are some restrictions on taking Echinacea the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.


How to use

Echinacea is available in capsules containing a powder of the dried plant or root, and also as a tincture (an alcohol-based preparation).

In some cases, people drink pressed juice from fresh plants. For treating skin conditions, special preparations containing pressed juice are used.

Echinacea is most effective when used aggressively—a dose on an empty stomach every few hours (along with vitamin C which also helps fight infection). The suggested dosage of Echinacea depends on which species and which parts of the plant were used.

In general, it should not be used for more than 1-2 weeks because it can lose its impact over time. It is usually suggested that people alternate between taking it for 10-20 days, then stopping for a week or so, then taking it for another 10-20 days. Some people do this as a preventative strategy throughout the cold and flu season.

Here are a few ways to use Echinacea:

  1. To improve immunity to infections: Take Echinacea pills, tablets, lozenges, or liquids in the recommended dosages (for up to two weeks). Be advised that Echinacea should not be taken for long periods of time because the herb can over-stimulate the immune system.
  2. To treat lesions and fever blisters: Apply a cotton swab dipped in pressed Echinacea juice on the affected area.
  3. To help kill germs and reduce inflammation on abrasions, insect bites, and burns: Apply a cotton compress soaked in one part Echinacea juice and two parts water to the infected area.
  4. For Gingivitis: after brushing, rinse mouth with Echinacea tea (up to three times a day), or place two to three drops of Echinacea liquid extract on a toothbrush and brush into gum line (up to three times a day).

Note: be sure to check with your doctor or health care provider to determine the correct dosage for you.


How to grow

Echinacea, or purple coneflower, are great for perennial borders and bloom in early to late summer with large, showy flowers. The daisy like flowers are pink or pink-purple or white with one species that is yellow in color. These plants are drought tolerant with most species having a taproot or short compact rhizomes.

There are two species of Echinacea that are very popular in the United States and are quite easy to grow. They are:

  • E. angustifolia

  • This plant has long petals which can be 4-8 cm long. The petals are thin and rose purple to pale whitish purple in color. The plant grows to 4 feet in height. It grows well in zones 4-9.
  • A special note: this plant grows best in high elevation where the winters are cold.
  • E. purpurea

  • This plant grows particularly well in residential gardens. It is native from Virginia to Iowa south to Georgia and Louisiana. It grows to one meter in height and has long stiff stems with one large cone of showy purple flowers. This flower is excellent for cutting and drying. Harvest should take place in late fall when both the plant and seeds are ripe. This plant grows best in low elevation where the winters are mild.

How to Grow

Echinacea is easy to grow from seed! Simply sow the seeds when the soil reaches 55-70 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring. Sow on the surface of the soil and after the seeds begin to germinate lightly cover the seeds with about 1/8 of an inch of soil. Thin the plants out so that they are 18 to 24 inches apart. Germination should occur within 10-20 days. After germination the plants will grow very quickly.

A few things to keep in mind when cultivating Echinacea are that most types of Echinacea will comfortably grow in zones 3-10 and they prefer part shade to full sun. The soil should be neutral, with a pH rating between 6 and 8 and well drained, however, they will generally do ok in clay laden soils as well. Be sure to control weeds as Echinacea will do better with less of them in their growing area. They will bloom from June to October and will attract butterflies and enhance any garden!

Pests and Diseases

There have been no significant diseases found which affect the roots of Echinacea plants, but cucumber mosaic virus has been noted to cause yellow mottling on the leaves. This appears to be a direct reaction to aphid leaf feeding. Therefore, aphid control on young plants is recommended.

Echinacea plants are an asset to any garden. Not only will they provide beauty, but they will also attract butterflies. What a beautiful, healthy addition to have in your garden!


References

  1. Starbuck, Jamison; Better Nutrition, Feb. 2001 v63 i2 p62; Echinacea's Healing Touch
  2. D.E. Gray, C.A. Roberts, G.E. Rottinghaus, H.E. Garrett and S. G. Pallardy; Crop Science, July 2001 v41 i4 p1159, Quantification of Root Chicoric Acid in Pruple Coneflower by Near Infrared Reflectance Spectroscopy.
  3. Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter, Nov97, Vol. 15 Issue 9, p8, 3/4p; Echinacea for what ails you?
  4. Roberts, Shauna S.; Diabetes Forecast, Oct 2000, Vol. 53 Issue 10, p43, 4p, 1bw; The Diabetes Advisor
  5. Huffman, Grace Brooke; American Family Physician, 9/1/99, Vol. 60 Issue 3, p968, 2p; Does Echinacea Extract Prevent or Ameliorate Respiratory Infections?
  6. Cox, Jeff; Organic Gardening, May/Jun 98, Vol. 45 Issue 5, P52, 2p, 2c; Purple Coneflower
  7. Mark, John D, Grant, Kathryn L., Barton, Leslie L.; Clinical Pediatrics, May 2001, Vol. 40 Issue 5, p265, 5p; The Use of Dietary Supplements in Pediatrics: A Study of Echinacea
  8. Long, Patricia; Health, May/Jun 95, Vol. 9 Issue 3, p90, 2p, 1c
    Gillette, Becky; E Magazine: The Environment Magazine, Jan/Feb99, Vol. 10 Issue 1, p42, 2p, 1c
  9. Raloff, Janet; Science News, 3/27/99, Vol. 155 Issue 13, p207, 1/4p; New Support for Echinacea's Benefits