Echinacea, echinacea purpurea, or Purple Cone Flower, is one of the most commonly used medicinal herbs in the world. It’s best when used to fight infection.
According to Nutritional Herbology: “The proven actions of Echinacea are due to water-soluble polysaccharides. They act by sequestering the attacks of various microbes and allow the body to heal itself.”
In other words, the echinacea prevents the infection from taking hold.
According to a critical review published in Phytomedicine, “a series of experiments have demonstrated that E. purpurea extracts do indeed demonstrate significant immunomodulatory activities. Among the many pharmacological properties reported, macrophage activation has been demonstrated most convincingly.”
Although the field of medicine dealing with macrophage activation is complex, the simple explanation is that activated macrophages are the cells that secrete substances that modulate inflammation and kill pathogens.
The good news is echinacea works. The bad news is you’re probably doing it wrong.
If you don’t use echinacea for the right problem or don’t take it correctly, you’re wasting your money.
Echinacea tea is one of the most common herbal teas sold and it is often “prescribed” for the common cold. However, the leaves of the echinacea plant are actually quite weak in the substances that fight infection and the cold is caused by a virus, not bacteria. Echinacea does seem to activate chemicals in the body that decrease inflammation, which might help to reduce cold symptoms, but it cannot cure a cold.
Use the Root
When you buy echinacea, be aware that the root is the effective part of the plant. Look for tinctures that say they are made from the root. You may take echinacea when you have a cold if you are afraid the cold may turn into a bacterial infection. In that case, echinacea may help to prevent the bacteria from taking hold, but the cold itself will not be cured by it.
Take Small, Frequent Doses
The recommendation for dosages of echinacea vary but, in general, echinacea tincture prepared from the root is best taken in small frequent doses. A few drops in water, juice, or straight every couple of hours, up to around 50 drops a day, may help you avoid the start of an infection.
Beware of Allergies
If you are trying echinacea for the first time, be aware that some people have allergic reactions, including rashes and increased asthma symptoms. People are more likely to experience allergic reactions to echinacea if they are allergic to related plants in the daisy family, which includes ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies. Always tell all your health care providers about any complementary health practices you use.
Editor’s Note: Your diet may also be affecting your immune system.