Resembling a black-eyed Susan, echinacea or purple coneflower is a North American perennial that is indigenous to the central plains where it grows on road banks, prairies, fields and in dry, open woods. It is also called snake root because it grows from a thick black root that Indians used to treat snake bites.
Herbalists consider Echinacea one of the best blood purifiers and an effective antibiotic. It activates the body's immune system increasing the chances of fighting off any disease. This popular herb has been used to help ward off the common cold and to relieve the symptoms of hay fever.
The Plains Indians used various species of echinacea to treat poisonous insect and snake bites, toothaches, sore throat, wounds, as well as mumps, smallpox, and measles. The settlers quickly adopted the therapeutic use of the plant, and since that time it has become one of the top selling herbs in the United States. Since the early 1900's hundreds of scientific articles have been written about echinacea. Most of the research during the past 10 years has focused on the immunostimulant properties of the plant.
The constituents of echinacea include essential oil, polysaccharides, polyacetylenes, betain, glycoside, sesquiterpenes and caryophylene. It also contains copper, iron, tannins, protein, fatty acids and vitamins A, C, and E. The most important immune-stimulating components are the large polysaccharides, such as inulin, that increase the production of T-cells and increase other natural killer cell activity. Fat-soluble alkylamides and a caffeic acid glycoside called echinacoside also contribute to the herb's immune empowering effects.
It has been shown in animal and human studies to improve the migration of white blood cells to attack foreign microorganisms and toxins in the bloodstream. Research suggests that echinacea's activity in the blood may have value in the defense of tumor cells.
Echinacea properties may offer benefit for nearly all infectious conditions. Studies show echinacea prevents the formation of an enzyme which destroys a natural barrier between healthy tissue and damaging organisms. Echinacea is considered an effective therapeutic agent in many infectious conditions including upper respiratory infections, the common cold and sinusitis. The herb is a mild antibiotic that is effective against staph and strep infections.
Echinacea aids in the production of interferon has increases antiviral activity against, influenza (flu), herpes, an inflammation of the skin and mouth. It may reduce the severity of symptoms such as runny nose and sore throat and reduce the duration of illness.
Echinacea's antibacterial properties can stimulate wound healing and are of benefit to skin conditions such as burns, insect bites, ulcers, psoriasis, acne and eczema. It's anti-inflammatory properties may relieve arthritis and lymphatic swelling.
It has also been used in homeopathy treatments for chronic fatigue syndrome, indigestion, gastroenteritis, and weight loss.
Part Used: Root, dried; also liquid extract and juice. Often used in combination with goldenseal or vitamin C.
Common Use: Echinacea products are used as a general nonspecific stimulant to the immune system, supporting and stabilizing cellular immunity and cleansing the blood, for the prevention and treatment of infections. There are no known side effects associated with it's use.
Care: Full sun or light shade in hotter climates. Can grow in fairly poor and dry soil.