A Beginner’s Guide to Echinacea

Echinacea is widely believed to be an essential winter remedy to fight off the common cold and other bugs. It seemed to boom in popularity a few years ago and is now often recommended by loved ones when you mention you’re feeling under the weather.

But what is Echinacea, what is it good for and can you take it regularly? We’ll explore more in this guide.

What is Echinacea and What Is It Used For?

  • Botanical names: Echinacea Purpurea / Echinacea Angustifolia
  • Plant family: Asteraceae
  • What part of Echinacea is used for medicine?
    • Whole plant – Echinacea Purpurea / Echinacea Angustifolia
    • Roots – Echinacea Radix
  • Preparations: Tablets, tincture, fresh plant juice
  • What is the recommended daily dosage of Echinacea: Taken orally
    • Tincture: 20 to 60 drops of tincture every 2 -3 hours in acute cases
    • Capsules: 500 to 1,000mg every two hours in acute cases

Echinacea , also known as the Purple Coneflower, is a perennial herb that has been well recognised for its antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal properties for many years.

In fact, the history of its use dates back to the Native Americans who were believed to have first used this plant for treating snake bites in the 18th century.

By the 1920s it was widely used as a commercial product for its ability to enhance the immune system as an immunostimulant.

There are actually 9 species of Echinacea but it is the Echinaea Purpera and Echinacea Angustifolia that are the 2 most often used.

Echinacea has been well documented in its use as a preventative measure to colds and flu, and indeed it is used frequently for the treatment of upper respiratory symptoms. It has been used to shorten the duration of common cold and flu, and may reduce the symptoms of a sore throat, tonsillitis, cough and fever. It is used by herbalists as a way to help the body fight infections by boosting the immune system.

Perhaps lesser known is the use of Echinacea for the treatment of some skin conditions, urinary tract infections and even thrush.

Evidence has shown that this plant stimulates the body to produce more white blood cells and Interferon to fight infection; and it has also been reported that it can help with strengthening mucosal integrity – the first line of defence in the body.

This herb has certainly gained interest more recently in the triathlon field whereby it was noticed long distance runners were more prone to infections.

The efficacy of Echinacea seems to be variable when it comes to the hundreds of research papers on this subject. And when it comes to treatment of upper respiratory issues, there are many variables. For example, the efficacy has been noticed by taking it within the first 24hrs of a cold but results can be different for everyone with some not noticing any benefits at all.

As with all natural medicine the key may be in the timing, how much is taken and for how long. Knowing when to start, continue or stop is very important.

Can You Take Echinacea Every Day?

Considering Echinacea has been widely used for centuries, there is still a lot of controversy with regard to the length of time one should use it.

Some say it should not be taken for longer than 8 weeks. Some studies say that it should not be used long term- although there is a lack of evidence – but generally, Echinacea has been used for short term treatment or for prophylactic preventative measures.

It may be possible to take it more long term, throughout the winter, by those who suffer frequent infections but it’s worth considering lifestyle adaptations too, such as a diet more rich in vitamins and minerals. If you suffer frequent infections, your first port of call should always be your doctor. There has been no reported toxicity for taking Echinacea but some people may be allergic to the Asteraceae family.

Most herbalists would not suggest the use of this herb with an autoimmune condition because of its immune stimulatory properties but again there has been no clear evidence to support this.

Can You Take Echinacea While Breastfeeding?

Surprisingly, for such a well used herb, and especially for one that has been used for many centuries, there is little to no published information and very little advice available on whether you can take Echinacea while breastfeeding. Please speak to your health care practitioner if you suffer a respiratory infection while breastfeeding and are looking for the best treatment method.

You may also like to read about the best crystals for fertility and pregnancy.

If you’re considering Echinacea, do some research before you take it and consider speaking with your health practitioner first. And always follow instructions on the label