Echinacea: Benefits, Side-Effects, Supplements, Uses, And Capsules

Echinacea is a class of flowering plants in the daisy (Asteraceae) family native to North America. Best known as an over-the-counter herbal remedy, Echinacea is also called the purple coneflower and is said to have a fiery and pungent taste. Three of the nine species of Echinacea are currently used in therapy for their medicinal properties. They are the Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida. According to the Journal of Applied Animal Research authored by Dr. Jahanian et al., Echinacea plants contain a complex mix of active compounds. Included are alkamides, caffeic acid, phenolic acids, polyacetylenes, rosmarinic acid, and many others. The active components seem to modulate immune function in the body, suggesting that it may aid with colds and faster recovery after illness. The Echinacea roots and their upper parts are used in tablets, tinctures, extracts, and teas.

Echinacea products appear to be safe and well-tolerated for short-term usage. However, there have been occasions where consumers reported adverse effects. Recognized side effects include rashes, itchy skin, stomach ache, nausea, and shortness of breath. People who are allergic to other flowers, such as daisies, chrysanthemums, marigolds, or ragweed, are more likely to experience these adverse effects.

Based on the American Botanical Council’s (ABC’s) 2020 Herb Market Report, the total U.S. sales of herbal dietary supplements reached $10 billion for the first time in 2020. Echinacea experienced the most substantial sales growth among the herbal products, 36.8%, on the mainstream multi-outlet channel. Based on Verified Market Research, the Global Echinacea Extract Market is projected to reach USD 2.88 Billion by 2027, growing at a CAGR (compound annual growth rate) of 8.25% between 2020 to 2027. Among the top players in this market are Nutraceutical (Solaray), Jamieson Wellness, Nature’s Way, Bioforce AG, Xi’an Rainbow Biotech Co., Ltd, and Shaanxi Jintai Biological Engineering Co, Ltd.

What Are The Benefits Of Echinacea?

Several studies have linked Echinacea and its compounds to a variety of health benefits, such as decreased inflammation, strengthened immunity, and reduced blood sugar levels. Below are the suggested benefits of Echinacea, according to research.

1. Improves The Immune System

Echinacea is most known for its ability to boost immune system function. This plant has been shown in several studies to help the immune system fight illnesses and viruses. According to a systematic review by Dr. Melchart, D. et al. in Phytomedicine, preparations containing extracts of Echinacea can be efficacious immunomodulators. 

According to Dr. Roger Pertwee’s research and released in the International Journal of Obesity, the compound Alkylamide, found in Echinacea, has been shown to activate cannabinoid receptors CB1 And CB2. The CB2 receptors occur mainly on immune cells that modulate cytokine release, which is essential to the functions of macrophages. Macrophages are white blood cells that assist in the removal of foreign substances by swallowing them and triggering an immune response. Cytokines are proteins that aid in regulating inflammation for maintaining a healthy immune reaction.

2. Lowers Blood Sugar Levels

High blood sugar is associated with diabetes, a chronic condition that weakens the body’s capacity to process blood glucose, otherwise known as blood sugar. The antidiabetic properties of Echinacea are due to its high content in caffeic acid derivatives. Most studies on its effects in lowering blood sugar levels are performed on mice, which might show a relevant correlation to human blood sugar levels.

Echinacea helps lower blood sugar levels by increasing insulin levels and preventing oxidation and inflammation in affected cells and tissues. A 2009 study on mice conducted by Dr. Chao et al., as per the journal Nutrition and Metabolism, revealed that caffeic acid or ellagic acid treatment markedly elevated AT-III and protein C activities. This may enhance the performance of anticoagulatory activity and ease diabetes-associated hypercoagulability. Their findings suggest these chemicals help with hemostatic disorders and reduce the risk of diabetes-related atherosclerosis and thrombosis. This is achieved by lowering triglyceride levels in the blood and cardiac tissue and increasing fibrinolytic factors, such as AT-III (antithrombin-III) and protein C activity.

In an in vitro study, led by Dr. Shiow-Ying Chiou in the Journal of Medicine Food, an Echinacea purpurea extract and CAD (caffeic acid derivatives) show a possibility for controlling hyperglycemia and hypertension. Despite this, human studies on the impact of Echinacea on blood sugar levels are limited.

3. Reduces Feelings Of Anxiety

Excessive anxiety and related behavioral disturbances are called anxiety disorders. Anxiety can interfere with a person’s ability to function in everyday life. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental illness in the United States. It affects 40 million adults aged 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.

Echinacea contains caffeic acid, rosmarinic acid, and alkamides that may reduce feelings of anxiety according to research led by Dr. Jozsef Haller and published in the Phytotherapy Research. This is the first study showing that Echinacea holds promise for anti-anxiety potential in humans. The alkamides in Echinacea act as CB1 and CB2 receptor antagonists that inhibit fatty acid amide hydrolase, an enzyme that breaks down anandamide. At low doses, Rosmarinic acid decreased anxiety in laboratory models. Caffeic acid works by influencing the activity of α1A adrenoceptors.

Another study by Dr. Haller led a new team of researchers in human testing on the anxiolytic potential of Echinacea. A pharmacological formulation of 20 mg Echinacea angustifolia extract was administered for one week to healthy volunteers who scored high on the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). Within three days, the high dose group (2 tablets per day) had decreased STAI scores, which remained stable for the rest of the treatment (7 days) and through the next two weeks that followed. The low dose group (1 tablet per day) showed no significant changes in anxiety. According to their findings, Echinacea extract appears to be beneficial for treating fluctuating anxiety symptoms.

At the moment, only a few studies on using Echinacea for anxiety exist. Therefore, more research is required before echinacea products can be recommended as a potential therapy.

4. Anti-Inflammatory

Inflammation is the body’s natural response to injury or infection. However, this inflammation can get out of control, leading to chronic diseases or health problems. Cynarin is a potential immunosuppressant compound extracted in Echinacea purpurea. According to a study by Dr. Dong, G. et al. published in Pharmaceutical Research, cynarin blocked 87% of the CD28-dependent “signal 2” pathway of T-cell activation. This test shows great potential in cynarin as an immunosuppressive agent.  

Echinacea extracts appear to modulate NF-kB (nuclear factor kappa-light) activity in dendritic cells (DC’s) of mice, based on a study led by Dr. Shu-Yi Yin in the BMC Genomics journal. Dendritic cells are antigen-presenting cells (a type of immune cell) in the body that present foreign material (proteins) to another type of immune cell called the T Cells, which then decide if that material is a concern to the body or not. NF-κB induces the expression of various pro-inflammatory genes and also takes part in inflammasome regulation. Their study suggests that a stem-and-leaf extract of E. purpurea modulates dendritic cell mobility and related cellular physiology in the immune system of the subject. Echinacea extracts can drastically modulate specific immune cells (DCs) by regulating key cellular behaviors. 

5. Can Treat Skin 

Echinacea plants have been found in scientific studies to help with skin issues. According to research published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science by Dr. Yotsawimonwat, S. et al., skincare products containing echinacea extract enhanced skin hydration and reduced wrinkles in 10 healthy volunteers, aged 25-40 years.

Similarly, a cream containing Echinacea purpurea extract shows excellent abilities in alleviating cutaneous symptoms of atopic eczema by applying remarkable anti-inflammatory actions and rebuilding the epidermal lipid barrier. This study was carried out by Dr. Olah, A. et al. as posted in the Journal of Dermatological Science. While research has shown some positive findings, Echinacea extract has a short shelf life and is difficult to combine into commercial skincare products. 

6. Cancer Protection

Cancer is a disease caused by the abnormal growth of cells in the body. There are over 100 different types of cancer, and each one affects people differently. A number of in vitro studies have shown that echinacea extracts inhibit cancer cell growth and even induce cancer cell death. Through apoptosis induced by Echinacea purpurea extracts and cichoric acid, Dr. Tsai, Y. et al. examined the cytotoxic effects of both on colon cancer cells. Cichoric acid has significant inhibitory effects against colon cancer cells, as evidenced by their findings. The reduced telomerase activity and increased apoptosis caused by cichoric acid contribute to its growth-inhibitory properties. The results of this study were made public in the Journal Of Ethnopharmacology. Cichoric acid is a caffeic acid derivative found in Echinacea plants. 

Another in vitro study, by Chicca, A. et al., demonstrated that lipophilic root extracts, from all the three medicinal Echinacea species, inhibit the proliferation of cancer cells. The more prominent concentration and time-dependent anticancer effect of Echinacea pallida may be because of its distinct phytochemical profile as compared to the other two species. The most prevalent class of compounds in Echinacea pallida is polyacetylenes, which are present at low levels in Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia root hexane extracts. Polyacetylenes are cytotoxic to human melanoma cells, SK-MEL 2, and human monocytic leukemia cells.

7. Antioxidants

Antioxidants protect the cells from oxidative damage. Oxidative damage is caused by harmful molecules called free radicals, damaging our cells, leading to cancer and heart disease. Antioxidants scavenge these toxic molecules and stop them from damaging our cells. 

Echinacea is abundant in antioxidant-producing compounds: flavonoids, cichoric acid, and rosmarinic acid. According to a review by Dr. Thygesen, L. et al., as announced in the Food Chemistry journal, verified the antioxidative activity of the Echinacea purpurea extract. They disclosed that cichoric acid has been shown to account for most of this activity. Researchers concluded cichoric acid to be comparable with flavonoids as a free radical scavenger.

 

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How Does Echinacea Work Within The Human Body?

Most research involving the pharmacological effects of Echinacea is in vitro or uses mouse models. Simultaneous determination and analysis of its compounds have been successfully developed by using different methods. Studies have been performed using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC), UV spectrophotometry, coulometric electrochemical, and electrospray ionization mass spectrometric detectors. The Echinacea species works in the body as an immunomodulator, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant.

As an immunomodulator, three mechanisms are involved in the immunostimulant activity of the plant or its preparations: induction of phagocytosis, fibroblast activation, and the improvement of leukocyte mobility resulting from cellular respiratory stimulation. Alkamides are shown to work on cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2), which is one potential mechanism of their immunomodulatory properties. In primary human monocytes and macrophages (immune cells), their molecular mechanism may involve an increase in cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP), p38 mitogen-activated protein kinases (MAPK), and cJun N-terminal kinases (JNK). In addition, NFB and activating transcription factor 2/cAMP responsive element-binding protein 1 (ATF2/CREB1).

As an anti-inflammatory, Echinacea extracts modulate the dendritic cell (DC) differentiation and expression of the specific immune-related gene via the cannabinoid receptor CB2 and several critical signaling molecules, such as cAMP, JNK, p38/MAPK kinases, ATF-2/CREB-a, and NF-κB. Dendritic cells (DCs) are antigen-presenting cells that act as key players in executing various immune responses, including primary innate immunity and T-cell-mediated immunity.

As an antioxidant, the cichoric acid in Echinacea extracts scavenges toward 2,2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH), similar to flavonoids and rosmarinic acid. However, although alkamides do not show antioxidant activity, they may upregulate cichoric acid activity through two methods. First, cichoric acid’s ability to dissolve in lipophilic droplets allows it to reach and inhibit lipid oxidation more effectively. Second, alkamide regenerates cichoric acid by giving allylic hydrogen to the one-electron oxidized Cichoric acid.

What Are The Risks and Side-Effects of Echinacea?

The risks and side-effects of Echinacea mainly arise in those with a previous history of allergies. The allergy is strongly linked to a ragweed allergy, which may indicate echinacea-induced side effects. Those who suffer from respiratory allergies and asthma are more likely to experience the following adverse effects. 

  • Hives
  • Flushing
  • Rashes 
  • Swelling
  • Nausea
  • Throat burning
  • Abdominal pain
  • Shortness of breath

People who have autoimmune diseases or are on immunosuppressive medications should speak with their doctors before taking Echinacea. Although it appears to be safe in the short term, its long-term consequences are largely unknown.

How Do You Determine The Correct Echinacea Dosage?

It is important to consider age, gender, usage, and research evidence when choosing the appropriate dosage for Echinacea. When taken as a supplement, it is best to follow the instruction label or consult a doctor, especially for those using other medications. In the United States, Echinacea supplements have not yet been granted a Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) status by the Food and Drug Administration. Below you will find dosage recommendations and their respective usage purposes based on the Internet Drug Index resource.

  • For common cold treatment: 5 mL twice daily for ten days or 20 drops in water every 2 hours on the first day of cold symptoms, followed by three times daily for up to 10 days.
  • When consumed as tea: five or six cups on the first day of cold symptoms, then reduce servings by 1 cup per day over the next five days.
  • For common cold prevention: 0.9 mL three times daily (total dose: 2400 mg daily) for four months, increasing to 0.9 mL five times daily (total quantity: 4000 mg daily) at the first sign of a cold.  

What Are The Most Common Questions For Echinacea Usage?

To better understand the uses and benefits that Echinacea can provide, we have answered the most common questions about it.

Are Echinacea Supplements Approved By The Authorities?

No, the Food and Drug Administration regulates health supplements like Echinacea as dietary supplements, not as drugs. That means that these supplements don’t need prior approval from the FDA to be sold on the market. However, once they are on the market, the FDA starts exercising its safety monitoring function. They review supplement labels and promotional materials as its resources allow and monitor safety complaints about the product. The supplement manufacturer itself is required to report any of these complaints to the FDA within 15 days upon receipt of the same.

Is Echinacea An Anticoagulant?

Although Echinacea significantly reduced plasma concentrations of S-warfarin according to a study by Dr. Abdul, M. et al. as published in the British Journal of Pharmacology, there is no research to support that it is an anticoagulant. 

Can You Take Echinacea At Night?

Yes, you can take Echinacea at night or any time of the day. There are many different strengths and dosages of Echinacea, so always read the package label carefully.

Can You Take Echinacea After Meal?

Yes, you can take Echinacea after a meal since most brands say to avoid taking it on an empty stomach.  They recommend consuming it with food or water.

Can You Take Echinacea Every Day?

According to the Internet Drug Resource Index, you can take Echinacea every day for four months for the prevention of the common cold. It is recommended to check the label or speak with your doctor about how long you can take Echinacea if you aren’t sure. 

Can A Child Take Echinacea?

According to a statement issued by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) in the United Kingdom, you should not administer Echinacea-containing herbal products to children under 12 years of age. The MHRA warns that allergic reactions can be severe in children this age. The MHRA regulates medicines and medical devices. Having said that, many children’s herbal remedies from leading herbal brands such as Gaia Herbs, Herb Pharm, Now, and Wise Woman Herbals contain Echinacea and are given to children safely every day. 

Can Your Pet Consume Echinacea?

The purple coneflower is not poisonous to pets, but a large dose might induce harmful side effects. If ingested, it can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and mild to severe toxicity in canines. In small amounts, Echinacea powder can be used to treat dogs with upper respiratory tract infections.

Which Plant Produces Echinacea?

Echinacea is a herbaceous flowering plant of the family Asteraceae that grows in eastern and central North America. Depending on the species, they grow best in US Hardiness Zones 3 to 9. The flowering begins in mid-summer and continues until frost. The roots and aerial parts of the plant are the primary ingredients in the various supplement forms available in the market.

What Is The Nutritional Profile Of Echinacea?

The nutritional profile of Echinacea describes the various vitamins and minerals it contains. Although Echinacea is often sold as an “immune-boosting” supplement, there is no substantial research on its nutrient content. 

The health benefits of Echinacea are attributed to these compounds:

  • Alkamides
  • Caffeic acid derivatives
  • Polysaccharides (carbohydrate)
  • Echinacoside 
  • Cichoric acid
  • Chlorogenic Acid
  • Caftaric acid
  • Quercetin
  • Kaempferol 
  • Hypoxanthine

What Are The Top Current Scientific Research Topics For Echinacea?

Studies have shown the positive effects Echinacea has on human health. Still, there are valid questions that require more investigation. Based on the PubMed website, here are the top current scientific research topics for Echinacea.

  • Influenza
  • Pain relief
  • Inflammation
  • Pharmacological activities
  • Upper respiratory tract infections
  • Prevention or treatment of COVID-19
  • Prevention and treatment of the common colds

What Are The Supplement Forms Of Echinacea?

Preparations of the echinacea plant are used widely to treat or prevent the common cold. Users choose to take Echinacea supplements for their known health benefits but may prefer a different method of delivery. The following are the different supplement forms of Echinacea. 

1. Echinacea Extract

Echinacea extracts are used in the manufacture of dietary supplements and herbal medicines. The primary use of these natural medicines is to strengthen the immune system’s resistance to inflammatory and viral illnesses such as coughs and colds. Echinacea extracts are made from plants in the Asteraceae family and Echinacea genus, including E. purpurea, E. angustifolia, and E. pallida. The extracts contain a large amount of lipophilic alkylamides (alkamides), which have been suggested to possess anti-inflammatory properties. Lipophilic alkylamides may also impact cytochrome P450 activity. Echinacea extracts have immunological effects, such as stimulating macrophage activation and increasing cytokine production.

Why Is Echinacea Extract Useful?

Echinacea extract is useful for the above mentioned reasons. Also, because it rapidly reduces feelings of anxiety in both mice and humans as per research led by Dr. Jozsef Haller and published in Phytotherapy Research. In addition, skin care products containing echinacea extract were found to enhance skin hydration and reduce wrinkles according to research published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science by Dr. Yotsawimonwat, S. et al.

 

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2. Echinacea Powder

Echinacea powder is made from ground Echinacea roots. This is an organic and chemically-unprocessed Echinacea supplement that contains no additives. It may also be used to make an excellent nutritional supplement in smoothies and juices, as well as oatmeal and cereal. You can also combine it into pasta or vegetable dishes, among other things. For dogs suffering from upper respiratory tract infections, echinacea powder can be prescribed as an alternative treatment according to Dr. Reichling, J. et al. as stated on the National Library Medicine website.

The companies producing Echinacea powder are Starwest Botanicals, EuroHerbs, and Unique Products of Nature.

3. Echinacea Pills And Capsules

Echinacea pills and capsules may be composed solely of standardized Echinacea extract or combined with other herbal extracts.  

Pills are a combination of Echinacea’s active components and excipients in a solid form. They are most frequently coated to make ingestion and absorption easier. Tablets can also be made containing only Echinacea but most often include a combination of other herbal extracts and compounds.

A capsule is a soft-shelled pill containing a powdered version of Echinacea encased in gelatin, cellulose, or similar material shells. It is worth noting that capsules can be devoid of excipients and are typically purer than other Echinacea supplements. Supplement suppliers prefer gelatin capsules since they dissolve quickly at body temperature. Vegetable capsules are comparable to gelatin capsules, except they are made without animal products for vegetarian or vegan users. The soft gels make them more easily swallowed while ensuring that the herbal extract is safely enclosed.

The companies that manufacture Echinacea supplements in tablet forms are Vital Nutrients, Ancient Nutrition, and Nutricology.

4. Raw Echinacea

Raw echinacea particularly its flower is typically infused with honey for a sweet home remedy against colds. The flower heads are cut, washed, and dried. They are stocked in a jar with poured honey, covered, and sit for 4 weeks. Strain the flowerheads and store the infused honey in a clean jar. It can also be used to make teas. 

5. Cooked Echinacea

The roots of cooked Echinacea are used to make tinctures and decoctions, a tea made with roots. Instead of brewing as you would with leaves and flowers, simmer the roots for 10 minutes to make a decoction. Echinacea tincture can be used as a tea, throat spray, or taken alone.

6. Processed Echinacea

Processed Echinacea is used for consumption, cooking, and storing. Processing also involves extracting its active components into a usable product. This can be done by either heating or reacting with alcohol. The products obtained from the processing are powders, liquids, and capsules. The main use for processed echinacea is preventative medicine to reduce nasal inflammation, coughs, and colds. 

What Are The Echinacea Types?

There are nine species of echinacea in the daisy family, which are commonly known as purple coneflowers. Some species are grown in gardens for their showy flowers, while only three are used for therapeutic purposes; Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea purpurea. Below are the nine species of Echinacea according to the Plants of the World Online.

  • Echinacea angustifolia – Narrow-leaf coneflower
  • Echinacea atrorubens – Topeka purple coneflower
  • Echinacea pallida – Pale purple coneflower
  • Echinacea laevigata – Smooth purple coneflower
  • Echinacea paradoxa – Yellow coneflower
  • Echinacea purpurea – Purple coneflower
  • Echinacea sanguinea – Sanguine purple coneflower
  • Echinacea serotina – Narrow-leaved purple coneflower
  • Echinacea tennesseensis – Tennessee coneflower
  • Echinacea simulata – Wavyleaf purple coneflower

What Is The Etymology Of Echinacea?

Echinacea was termed after the Greek “ekhinos” by a German botanist named Conrad Moench. In greek, the name relates to hedgehogs or sea urchins due to the cone’s spiny projections. The scientific name purpurea means “purple” in Latin.

What Place Does Echinacea Have In Society And Culture?

Native Americans were known to exchange their expertise in herbalism for goods with European settlers, who frequently required medications. This is due to the difficulties of transporting medicines across the Atlantic. Echinacea may be one of the most essential indigenous herbs introduced to Western medicine by Native Americans.

In 1897, John Uri Lloyd was the first to analyze Echinacea and published his findings. He found that “echinacea” contains minute traces of a colorless alkaloid. Today, a lot more is known about the chemical composition of Echinacea species. This information is thanks to the efforts of numerous groups in Germany, particularly those at the Institute of Pharmaceutical Biology in Munich, led by Professor H. Wagner and his students.

The Echinacea market is expected to expand quickly in the next five years due to the rising demand of food and beverage items, cosmetics, and pharmaceuticals, including natural, organic, and herbal components. The coronavirus outbreak has increased the demand for various immunity-boosting substances as well. Herbal products are gaining popularity due to changing consumer behavior in choosing healthier choices.

According to Verified Market Research, the global Echinacea extract market is expected to reach USD 1.47 billion in sales by the end of 2019. It is anticipated to reach more than USD 2.88 billion by 2027, with a CAGR (compounded annual growth rate) of 8.25% over the next five years. The growing demand for herbal medicines and products is one of the driving forces behind the global Echinacea market’s development.

Echinacea is becoming increasingly popular in the healthcare sector, owing to its numerous health advantages. The growing investments in research and development and the recent scientific breakthroughs to develop herbal (Echinacea) medicines and Echinacea-based products like cosmetics create lucrative growth prospects worldwide.

Echinacea appears to “cross over” into groups of individuals who wouldn’t typically use herbal treatments; even Hollywood has learned of it. It was reported in the popular media that celebrities including Cher, Jodie Foster, and Star Trek cast members frequently utilize the plant to ward off colds.

What Are Some Food Recipes That Contain Echinacea?

Echinacea is typically combined in beverages such as teas and juices. There are, however, recipes containing Echinacea you can easily prepare at home. The following are food preparations that use Echinacea as an ingredient. 

  • Jello “Flu Shots”
  • Echinacea Ice Lollies
  • H1N1 – Feel Good Pud
  • Kale Soup with Echinacea
  • Echinacea Gummy Bears
  • Fruity Echinacea Gelatin Squares
  • Echinacea and Vegetable Juice
  • Sage and Echinacea Chicken Soup
  • Lime-Ginger-Echinacea Lozenges

What Are The Echinacea Parts?

The parts of Echinacea that can be used as ingredients for its health benefits are as follows:

  1. Roots: Echinacea root is most often used in tinctures and pills both by many home herbalists and commercial manufacturers. This part is the most commonly used part of the plant in supplements. They also serve as the raw material for Echinacea extract. The highest levels of cichoric acid were found in 40% ethanol solution from roots and flowers.
  1. Leaves: Echinacea grows basal leaves arranged around the base of a stem and cauline (or radical) leaves along its aerial stem. The leaves are arranged alternately and are normally hairy with a rough texture. The leaves and flower buds are most often collected for herbal tea. Purple coneflower leaves produced the highest concentration of caftaric acid, which has health-enhancing qualities.
  1. Flowers: Echinaceas have purple flowers, hence their common name purple coneflowers. There are outer droopy (ray) florets with teeth at the ends of the inner (disk) florets, which end in spines. A daisy-shaped head unit is made up of many tiny florets. Like their leaves, flower buds are most often concocted into tea but are to be used in moderation. 

What Is The History Of Echinacea?

The earliest archeological evidence of Echinacea dates from the 18th century, though we know Native Americans used it medicinally for some time. The name Echinacea or purple coneflower comprises many North American species of the Asteraceae family, particularly Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea purpurea Moench, and Echinacea pallida. According to traditional healers, the plant is used in external applications for burns, insect bites, and wounds to eating roots for throat infections, pain relief, coughs, stomach cramps, toothache, and snakebites.

Around 1880, the first Echinacea preparation, known as Meyers Blood Purifier, hit the market. The product claimed to help with rheumatism, neuralgia, and rattlesnake bites. Echinacea was the most used plant treatment in the United States throughout much of the 20th century. It was cultivated commercially in Germany around 1939 and first introduced and cultivated in Switzerland by A. Vogel in 1950.

Many components of Echinacea have now been identified, including alkylamides, polysaccharides, cichoric acid, ketoalkenes, and echinacoside. Although there are hundreds of studies on Echinacea and numerous preparations on the market, many of the active components are still unknown.

What Is The Cultivation Process Of Echinacea?

The cultivation process of Echinacea requires full to partial sun; at least four hours of sunlight per day. Plants prefer shaded areas where they may grow both in the morning and afternoon shade. Here are the steps in cultivating Echinacea.

  1. Plant the seeds in a cold, moist period (fall or winter) to germinate. This process is called stratification. Spread the seeds sparingly on the surface of the soil and keep moist until germination takes place.
  2. Once germination has occurred (after 10-20 days), gently cover sprouts with 1/8 inch of soil.
  3. When sprouts are about three inches high, thin them to 18-24 inches apart in all directions to give them room to grow. You may also mulch around the plants to minimize weed development.
  4. Harvest coneflower when all the stems and heads have blackened after the first frost. Put them upside down in a paper bag and shake seeds from their heads by cutting six to twelve inches below the head.
  5. Place in a warm, dry location where they won’t be exposed to harsh light or heat.
  6. Roots can be harvested for medicinal purposes once the plant is at least three years old.
  7. Lift the roots gently with a garden fork or shovel.
  8. Gently shake off any excess soil in the plant and wash them under running water.

How Is Echinacea Processed?

Echinacea is processed through various methods to make raw Echinacea suitable for consumption, cooking, or storage. The stages of Echinacea processing are harvesting, stripping, washing, quality testing, and then extraction. After they are harvested, the leaves and flowers are stripped from the stems. The roots are thoroughly washed before transporting to a facility for quality testing and then extraction.

Modern science has validated many of Echinacea’s medicinal uses, and today, numerous healthcare practitioners consider it a household therapy. As a result, Echinacea plays an essential part in herbalism and pharmaceutical research. 

What Are The Similar Plants To The Echinacea?

Echinacea is one of the three different genera known as coneflowers, which comprises many other economically significant species. The name coneflower comes from the cone-shaped center, or disk of the flower. Listed below are other plants that are called Echinacea from time to time. These plants are also native to North America and share the characteristic “cone” at the center of the flower head.

  • Ratibida columnaris
  • Ratibida pinnata
  • Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed Susan )
  • Rudbeckia bicolor (thimble-flower) 
  • Rudbeckia laciniata (coneflowers)
  • Rudbeckia laciniata v. hortensia (Golden glow)

How Does Echinacea Help The Immune System?

Echinacea helps the body’s natural defenses by battling infections and viruses, which may assist you in recovering more quickly from illness. According to a review of a study led by Dr. Soodabeh Saeidnia in the journal Pharmacognosy Review, the immunostimulant activity of the plant and its extract is caused by three mechanisms: activation of phagocytosis, fibroblast stimulation, and enhancing leukocyte mobility.

The administration of the plant extracts increases the body’s natural defenses. The immune system is strengthened against bacterial infections by enhancing neutrophils, macrophages, polymorphonuclear leukocytes (PMN), and natural killer (NK) cells. For this reason, it may be used to prevent and treat various infections, including those of the respiratory system. Furthermore, alkamides are found to work on cannabinoid receptor type 2 (CB2), which is considered a potential mechanism of their immunomodulatory effects.

 

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Is Echinacea Good For Viruses?

Yes, Echinacea is often used to prevent or treat viruses that cause colds, sore throats, or the flu. Based on a study conducted by Hudson, J. et al. as per the Pharmaceutical journal, some Echinacea extracts exhibited multiple positive effects when used to treat viral respiratory infections.

Can I Use Echinacea For Covid?

Current evidence suggests that supplementation with Echinacea may reduce the duration and severity of acute respiratory tract infections. To date, no studies have been identified using Echinacea to prevent or treat conditions like COVID-19 according to a review by Dr. Monique Aucoin et al. as stated in the Advances In Integrative Medicine journal.

Can I Use Echinacea Supplement As Precaution For Covid?

Yes, according to Dr. Silveira D. et al. as per Frontiers in Pharmacology journal concluded that Echinacea, among other herbal medicines, has safety margins superior to that of reference drugs, and a level of evidence that could lead to a clinical discussion regarding their use as adjuvants in treating early/mild common influenza in otherwise healthy adults. Although these herbal medicines are not designed to cure or prevent the flu, they may nonetheless improve the general wellbeing of patients and allow them to personalize their treatment approaches.

Can You Take Vitamin C With Echinacea?

You can take Echinacea with vitamin C since there were no interactions found between them. Nevertheless, this does not mean interactions do not exist and you should still consult with your healthcare provider.

Resources: 

  1. Echinacea. (2022). Retrieved 6 January 2022, from http://www.worldfloraonline.org/taxon/wfo-4000012904
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  1. Senica, M., Mlinsek, G., Veberic, R., & Mikulic-Petkovsek, M. (2019). Which Plant Part of Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench) Should be Used for Tea and Which for Tincture?. Journal Of Medicinal Food, 22(1), 102-108. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2018.0026
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