Echinacea is renowned in the world of natural medicine due to its immunostimulating properties.
Echinacea has become more and more popular in the last few decades in the fields of dietetics and phytotherapy. In fact, it is one of the most effective natural remedies in a field where there is a lot of competence.
Its use in traditional medicine started at the beginning of the 20th century. Nowadays, we can find a wide range of products that are made with the whole echinacea plant: root, flowers, stem, leaves, and seeds.
- 1. What is the echinacea?
- 2. Origin of echinacea
- 3. How to cultivate echinacea
- 4. Echinacea, an excellent immune-enhancer
- 5. Benefits of echinacea
- 6. Contraindications of echinacea
- 7. How to take echinacea
- 8. Echinacea infusion
- 9. Treatments with echinacea
- 10. How to combine echinacea
- 11. Bibliography
- 12. Related Entries:
What is the echinacea?
It belongs to a beautiful herbaceous species, similar to a daisy but with a bigger flower and little thorns in its rough stem.
Moreover, it has floral disks with a tubular aspect, terminal thorns and narrow tabs of a purple tone. Its name comes the Greek word ekhinos which means hedgehog. This is probably due to the similar aspect of this animal and the spiny flowers and fruit of this plant.
It belongs to the Asteraceae family, when we use the word echinacea we are actually referring to twenty-three species. However, thirteen of them are not suitable for human consumption. Among the remaining ten, we mainly use three of them: Pallida, Angustifolia and Purpurea.
Origin of echinacea
Apparently, it is native to the east of North America where its consumption by the native people spread during the 18th century. Although there is evidence that the Sioux already used it in the 16th century. Above all, the made wraps, mouthwash and tea in order to protect their health against harsh winters.
How to cultivate echinacea
Although a mild climate is more appropriate for its optimal development, Echinacea is extraordinarily resistant to extreme temperatures. In fact, it is capable of surviving persistent frosts and also the torrid summers of a continental climate. However, it needs plenty of sunlight, which is why northern climates are hostile due to their constant mist and rainy days.
Echinacea is more demanding when it comes to the features of the soil. It will only prosper in a clayey and porous soil with a good capacity to retain water. In fact, a compact or loamy soil is quite inappropriate, since it is more difficult for the plant to grow its roots.
Even though it can survive droughts, it is necessary to maintain a constant humidity so that it can grow properly. However, it is important not to exceed the amount of water because otherwise the roots will rot.
At the beginning of spring, plant the seeds superficially in a soil that has been previously treated with turf. Make sure that there is a proper drainage in order to prevent the roots from rotting. These seeds have to remain protected under a thin layer of dirt, without being fully buried.
It is important to keep at least 30cm between each seed, as well as 45cm between each furrow.
The seeds will germinate within 15-20 days, as long as there is a 25 °C temperature on average. Then, we will have to wait at least a month and a half to ensure the viability of a transplant. However, this is not the only method to grow echinacea. More specifically, there is a very interesting one that consists of dividing the root. For this method, you will need plants of 3 and 5 years of age and you will have to do it in autumn. The roots are cut in pieces of 12 centimeters and from each one, a new plant will grow.
Echinacea, an excellent immune-enhancer
In fact, several laboratory experiments have proven its ability to stimulate the production of lymphocytes T and interferon. The former are the fraction of white cells that neutralizes invading agents. On the other hand, the latter are a protein of non-specific action that reacts against viral antigens.
But its role in the immune system does not stop there, which is without any doubt its greatest virtue. It is also a immune-modulator, which means that it regulates the response system by stimulating the macrophages. These are giant cells capable of getting inside external agents in order to destroy them. Echinacea also strengthens the tropism of the defensive cells in order to move to the source of infection.
These properties are due to the richness of the root of the plant. It is rich in three substances: echinacea, caffeic acid, and cichoric acid. These three elements can stimulate the white cell production in the bone marrow, among other properties:
- Caffeic acid is a key ingredient for the synthesis of lignin (substance that makes up cell walls and which is responsible for the consistency of wood). Moreover, it is a powerful antioxidant that protects us against cancer.
- Cichoric acid also has the ability to prevent oxidative stress. But it also seems to reduce the accumulation of beta-amyloid proteins whose role in the development of Alzheimer is very important.
Recent research points to the existence of a mechanism used by echinacea that would explain its immune efficiency. It is mainly due to its ability to counter the action of the hyaluronidase enzyme, which is responsible for the loss of hyaluronic acid. This substance works like a glue that fills the spaces between the cells. By preventing this phenomenon, Echinacea would contribute to preserving the natural immune barrier of the tissues, which is hyaluronic acid.
Echinacea and its ability to stimulate the immune system could provide excellent support for certain treatments. Specially if we think about diseases associated with immune weakness. For instance:
- Vaginal candidiasis
- Cystitis and urethritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Stye (infection of a hair follicle in the eyelashes)
- Sexually transmitted diseases (AIDS, syphilis and gonorrhea)
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), hay fever, and sinusitis
Benefits of echinacea
The benefits of echinacea are actually supported by the most important sanitary authority, the World Health Organization. There are other renowned organizations such as ESCOP (European Scientific Cooperative On Phytotherapy) or the Commission E from Germany. They have classified echinacea as a natural first-choice antibiotic to treat infectious processes, specially those related to the respiratory tract, the urinary tract, and the skin.
When it comes to therapeutic active ingredients, we also have to mention the presence of arabinogalactan. To put it simply, it is a complex carbohydrate and a factor in the destruction of cancer cells in recent research.
Echinacea for sports
Its great anti-inflammatory power makes it an excellent element for the treatment of sport and traumatic injuries in general. In fact, it is specially useful for tendinitis and bursitis (inflammation of the bursa).
As an expectorant, it helps to combat two serious diseases, malaria and diphtheria. Moreover, it is recommended for those who suffer attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome. Finally, it is worth mentioning that it has shown to increase the defenses in patients that are undergoing radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Contraindications of echinacea
The European Committee on Herbal Medicinal Products points to the few situations in which echinacea may produce any negative effects:
- On children under the age of twelve: it can cause allergic reactions like urticaria and rashes. On the worst cases, it can cause a general immune case, glottis edema or asthma.
- Those who are allergic to plant related to echinacea or daisies are more prone to be allergic to echinacea. Moreover, those who suffer chronic asthma or congenital tendency to hypersensitivity should also be careful.
- Nausea and some gastric problems are some of the most common side effects of echinacea. Therefore, if you feel nausea or dizzy after taking it, you should stop taking it and consult your doctor.
- Tongue stiffness and dry mouth with a strange flavor.
- People with hepatic deficiency should not take it either, as well as pregnant or lactating women.
- You have to be careful if you take it simultaneously with coffee, medicines that are eliminated through the bile or immunosuppressants (like corticosteroids). Otherwise, you will experience negative interactions.
How to take echinacea
Actually, we can use all the parts of the plant to make therapeutic preparations. In fact, it is available in different formats such as dry or fluid extracts, capsules, colors, and infusions. Moreover, if we focus on its uses for the skin we can find lotions, creams and bandages.
Since it is a powerful wound-healer, we can apply fresh echinacea juice or tincture on the skin in order improve the healing of: wounds, ulcers, burns, hemorrhoids, insect stings, boils, abscess, acne, psoriasis, and herpes.
Its liquid consumption produces a tingling sensation in the mouth that is completely harmless. In fact, it is evidence of the quality of the product.
Nevertheless, this amounts, as well as the duration of the treatments, must be taken with reservations. They will always vary depending on the authorized opinion of a professional. Moreover, even if the consumption of the dry plan is not discouraged, it is preferable, due to a higher safety, to use supplements with a normalized formulation.
You can make a homemade echinacea infusion which comes in handy during autumn and winter.
We will just need two spoonfuls of echinacea and a cup of water:
- Boil the water
- Once it is boiling, add two spoonfuls of echinacea and let it boil for a couple minutes
- Remove and let it settle between 3 and 5 minutes
- Strain and serve
Treatments with echinacea
- Flu, cold, soar throat, or bronchitis: take one gram of echinacea supplement daily in five servings
- Sinusitis: 800mg a day distributed in five servings
- Infections of the urinary tract such as cystitis and urethritis, 800mg a day distributed in four servings
- Ear infections and sties: two cups of infusion and one spoon of dry plant for cup of water; or 600mg a day as a supplement, distributed in three servings
- Take 600mg a day distributed in three servings while recovering from diseases or surgery, for chronic fatigue syndrome or spring asthenia. This will increase the defenses of the organism
- For “lazy stomach” and dry mouth: it stimulates the appetite, increasing the secretion of saliva and improving the digestion. It can work with two cups of infusion a day made with a spoonful of echinacea per cup of water; or three servings of 600mg daily for supplementation
- Tendinitis and bursitis, the treatment is the same as the previous case.
How to combine echinacea
A substance that is extracted from hives, it is very useful in order to prevent and treat colds. It is meant for respiratory infections thanks to its antibiotic and anti-flu effects. This feature is mainly due its flavonoid content that support the defenses. In fact, it is also a good alternative to combat sinusitis, laryngitis, a sore throat, and aphonia due to its anti-inflammatory and anesthesic effects.
It is known for supporting recovery processes regarding allergies, edema , arthritis, cystitis, goat, hemorrhoids, or prostatitis. This is due to the anti-inflammatory effect of its glycosides and terpenes. On the other hand, it contains alkaloids, epicatechins and chlorogenic acid, which inhibit the development of tumors.
Cat’s claw has a very interesting synergy with echinacea when it comes to strengthening the defenses and controlling tissue inflammation.
It is another immune-stimulant plant, which increases the vigor of white cells in order to stop the multiplication of microorganisms. Combining echinacea and marshmallow creates supports the healing of wounds. Moreover, it fights against the inflammation of the respiratory tract and infectious processes in general, specially that of the urinary tract, and the mouth cavity, as well as for skin conditions caused by fungus or psoriasis.
It is the perfect combination to treat cystitis, since gayuba is a urinary antiseptic. However, it only acquires its maximum efficiency when the urine is as much alkaline as possible. That is the reason why it is recommended to mix it with an alkalizing substance such as bicarbonate.
- Thomsen MO, Christensen LP, Grevsen K. Harvest Strategies for Optimization of the Content of Bioactive Alkamides and Caffeic Acid Derivatives in Aerial Parts and in Roots of Echinacea purpurea. J Agric Food Chem. 2018 Oct 26. doi: 10.1021/acs.jafc.8b03420.
- Catanzaro M, Corsini E, Rosini M, Racchi M, Lanni C. Immunomodulators Inspired by Nature: A Review on Curcumin and Echinacea. Molecules. 2018 Oct 26;23(11). pii: E2778. doi: 10.3390/molecules23112778.
- Khozeimeh F, Saberi Z, Tavangar A, Badi FF. Effect of Herbal Echinacea on Recurrent Minor Oral Aphthous Ulcer. Open Dent J. 2018 Aug 31;12:567-571. doi: 10.2174/1874210601812010567. eCollection 2018.
- Parsons JL, Cameron SI, Harris CS, Smith ML. Echinacea biotechnology: advances, commercialization and future considerations. Pharm Biol. 2018 Dec;56(1):485-494. doi: 10.1080/13880209.2018.1501583.