Echinacea (Echinacea, Purpurea, Angustifolia)

Echinacea is one of the world’s most important medicinal herbs. Echinacea is an extremely popular herbal supplement; sales are nearly $300 million a year according to the last figures available. The genus Echinacea is native to the North American prairies. Nearly all parts of the plant are used for therapeutic preparations including the root, leaves, flowers, and seeds. Echinacea products may be derived from cultivated or wild stocks. Echinacea was widely used by the Plains Indians of North America for a variety of purposes including treatment of snake bite and relief of fever. From 1887, the plant was incorporated into a variety of patent medicines and by the 1920s echinacea was the largest selling patent medicine in North America.

Plants in this genus were probably the most frequently used of all North American Indian herbal remedies. They had a very wide range of applications and many of these uses have been confirmed by modern science. The plant has a general stimulatory effect on the immune system and is widely used in modern herbal treatments. Research shows that it has the ability to raise the body’s resistance to bacterial and viral infections by stimulating the immune system. It is also antibiotic and helps to relieve allergies. Echinacea is regarded as effective in treating certain viral and bacterial infections as well as wounds and inflammation, while stimulating the immune system.

Its ability to potentiate the immune system and to reduce inflammation provide the basis for many of its suggested uses including treatment of colds, coughs, flu, other upper respiratory infections, enlarged lymph glands, sore throat, urinary tract infections, herpes and candida, wounds, skin infections, eczema and psoriasis. Recent research has demonstrated significant absorption from orally administered applications. In Germany over 200 pharmaceutical preparations are made from Echinacea. The roots and the whole plant are considered particularly beneficial in the treatment of sores, wounds, burns etc, possessing cortisone-like and antibacterial activity. The plant was used by North American Indians as a universal application to treat the bites and stings of all types of insects. An infusion of the plant was also used to treat snakebites.

Echinacea is a very popular American wildflower and garden plant, the purple coneflower. It’s also one of America’s most popular herbal products, also used to prevent and treat the common cold, influenza and infections. Echinacea is the best known and one of the most researched of immunostimulants. Echinacea was among the most popular herbs used by Native American Indians. At least 14 tribes used Echinacea for a coughs, colds, sore throats, infections, toothaches, inflammations, tonsillitis, and snake bites, among other uses. It was used by the Dakotas as a veterinary medicine for their horses. By the early Twentieth century, echinacea had become the best selling medicinal tincture in America, used for a variety of internal and external conditions. But by 1910 it had been dismissed as worthless by the AMA, although it continued to be used.

Europeans began growing and using echinacea, especially the Germans in the 50’s and 60’s, and to this day have produced the best scientific documentation of its value. The extract’s popularity in the U.S. grew rapidly during the 1980s, and the plant is now again among America’s best-selling herb extracts. The most common anecdotal reports about the use of echinacea are from people who begin taking the extract at the first sign of a cold. Often to their surprise, they find the cold has disappeared, usually within twenty-four hours, and sometimes after taking the extract only once. Anecdotal evidence carries little weight in scientific circles, but plant drug researchers have conducted over 350 scientific studies about echinacea. Here’s what some of those studies say about echinacea: The most consistently proven effect of echinacea is in stimulating phagocytosis, or the consumption of invading organisms by white blood cells and lymphocytes.

To prove this, scientists incubate human white blood cells, yeast cells and echinacea extract. They examine the blood cells microscopically and a count the numbers of yeast cells gobbled up by the blood cells. Extracts of echinacea can increase phagocytosis by 20-40%. Another test, called “the carbon clearance” test, measures the speed with which injected carbon particles are removed from the bloodstream of a mouse. The quicker the mouse can remove the injected foreign particles, the more its immune system has been stimulated. In this test too, echinacea extracts excel, confirming the fact that this remarkable plant increases the activity of immune system cells so they can more quickly eliminate invading organisms and foreign particles.

Research in 1957, showed that an extract of echinacea caused a 22% reduction in inflammation among arthritis sufferers. That is only about half as effective as steroids, but steroids have serious side-effects. Steroids also strongly suppress the immune system, which makes them a poor choice for treating any condition in which infection is likely. Echinacea, on the other hand, is nontoxic, and adds immune-stimulating properties to its anti-inflammatory effect. Most people use echinacea for warding off colds and influenza. Extracts, either alcoholic or nonalcoholic, are the most commonly used form, and the usual amount taken is one dropperful at a time (15-25 drops). This is taken at the first sign of a cold and repeated two or three times a day.

European clinics do not use continuous doses of echinacea but rather alternate three days on and three days off. This is because some testing shows that the immune system in healthy subjects can only be stimulated briefly before returning to its normal state. After several days without stimulation, immunostimulants can again be effective. Echinacea has an excellent safety record. After hundreds of years of use, no toxicity or side-effects have been reported except rare allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. The purple coneflower is a truly American contribution to world health care through herbs. This safe and effective immune stimulant was discovered and first used by the Native Americans and is now a major medicinal plant used throughout Europe and the U.S.

Names: Purple Coneflower

Habitat: Throughout North American prairies, plains, and open woodlands.

Part Used: The root.


  • Echinacoside, in E. angustifolia but not E. purpurea. Research suggests that the echinacosides glycosides appear to be primary antimicrobial constituents in Echinacea. However there are many other biologically active substances present, and there is evidence that they work synergistically. The polysaccharides, for example, possess the best immune stimulating properties and are also antiviral.
  • Unsaturated isobutyl amides, echinacin and others, in E. angustifolia and E. pallida.
  • Polysaccharides; a heteroxylan and an arabinorhamnogalactan
  • Polyacetylenes, at least 13 of which have been isolated. It has been postulated that these are artifacts formed during storage, since they are found in dried but not fresh roots of E. pallida.
  • Essential oil, containing humulene, caryophyllene and its epoxide, germacrene D and methyl-p-hydroxycinnamate
  • Miscellaneous; vanillin linolenic acid derivatives, a labdane derivative, alkanes and flavonoids and the alkaloids tussilagine and isotussilagine.

Note: Sesquiterpene esters which were originally identified in commercial samples of E. purpurea have since been shown to be due to the presence of an adulterant, Parthenium integrifolium L. (American Feverfew). It appears that this adulteration may be widespread in commercial samples.

Actions: Antimicrobial, immunomodulator, anti-catarrhal, alterative.

Indications: Echinacea is one of the primary remedies for helping the body rid itself of microbial infections. It is often effective against both bacterial and viral attacks, and may be used in conditions such as boils, septicaemia and similar infections. In conjunction with other herbs it may be used for any infection anywhere in the body. For example in combination with Yarrow or Bearberry it will effectively stop cystitis. It is especially useful for infections of the upper respiratory tract such as laryngitis, tonsillitis and for catarrhal conditions of the nose and sinus. In general it may be used widely and safely.

The tincture or decoction may be used as a mouthwash in the treatment of pyorrhoea and gingivitis. It may be used as an external lotion to help septic sores and cuts. Much research is focussing upon this plant, providing important insights into its activity and potential uses. Glycosides from the roots have mild activity against Streptococci and Staphylococcus aureus. Echinacoside was the most active with about 6 mg being equivalent to one unit of penicillin. The tincture was able to reduce both the rate of growth and the rate of reproduction of Trichomonas vaginalis, and was found to be effective in halting the recurrence of Candida albicans infection. It seems to prevent infection and repair tissue damaged by infection, partially through inhibiting the activity of the enzyme hyaluronidase.

The hyaluronidase system is a primary defense mechanism, involving connective “ground” substance, or hyaluronic acid, acting as a barrier against pathogenic organisms. Some pathogens activate an enzyme, hyaluronidase, which once activated destroys the integrity of the ground substance. This causes the barrier to become leaky, allowing pathogens to invade, attach themselves to exposed cells, penetrate the membrane and kill the cell. The result as an inflammatory infection. Echinacea inhibits the action of hyaluronidase by bonding with it in some way, resulting in a temporary increase in the integrity of the barrier. Fewer pathogens are able to stimulate the destruction of the ground substance.

A range of constituents mediate this process, especially a complex polysaccharide called echinacin B. This anti-hyaluronidase action is involved in regeneration of connective tissue destroyed during infection and in the elimination of pathogenic organisms creating the infection. Purified polysaccharides prepared from Echinacea possess a strong activating force on the body’s macrophage-mediated defense system. These macrophages initiate the destruction of pathogens and cancer cells. Echinacea activates macrophages by itself, independent of any effect with T-cells. A tumor-inhibiting principle has been found, a oncolytic lipid-soluble hydrocarbon from the essential oil. The echinacosides glycosides appear to be the primary ‘antibiotics’, but there are many other active substances present which probably function synergistically.

The polysaccharides possess the best immune stimulating properties and are also antiviral. Other constituents have been shown to possess good anti-tumor, bacteriostatic, and anesthetic activity. This all points to the conclusion that its actions relate to immune system functioning on some level, helping deal with infections and stimulating the immune response. It activates the macrophages that destroy both cancerous cells and pathogens, increases the level of phagocytosis by raising levels of white blood cells such as the neutrophils, monocytes, eosinophils, and B lymphocytes. It also has an effect on properidin levels, indication an activation of the complement system.

Preparations & Dosage: Decoction: put 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the root in one cup of water and bring it slowly to boil. Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day. Tincture: take 1-4 ml of the tincture three times a day. Echinacea is often, inappropriately, used as a daily ‘immune support’ (whatever that is!). A quote from Dr. Daniel Mowrey’s excellent review of Echinacea in Next Generation Herbal Medicine is pertinent here:

“Daily intake should be restricted to what is deemed necessary. During cold and flu season, two to four capsules per day is sufficient. In the presence of acute infection, that dosage may be increased, without danger, to more than 8 capsules. In the presence of chronic infections, such as chronic hepatitis, echinacea may be used continuously for several months. However, for the maintenance of a healthy immune system, echinacea is most wisely used periodically – a few weeks on, and a few weeks off, throughout the year.

Echinacea is not a tonic in all aspects; granted that it has been observed to stabilize the production of neutrophils, such tonic action has not been observed on other immune factors, such as properidin production. In the absence of conclusive experimental findings, it is both safe and wise to assume that the constant, unremitting use of echinacea could be stressful on certain aspects of the immune system. During breaks, the immune system will adapt and increase in natural strength.”

Echinacea angustifolia & Echinacea purpurea

Legendary remedy of Native American Indians. Now most popular in Germany due to extensive German research ongoing since 1800’s. Detoxifier of chemical toxins including snake venom which is similar in chemistry to toxic, degrading byproducts of alcohol, either consumed as a beverage or produced as a byproduct of everyday metabolism. Thus, an excellent blood cleanser. Supports immune scavenging for cellular debris and bacteria. Anti-tumor, antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal. Reduces inflammation. Note: continuous consumption at excessive levels over run synergistic resources and reduce benefits. Therefore, regular daily intake should be kept moderate. 4% Echinacosides, 15% Polysaccharides, Phytosterols, Echinacin, Glycosides, Echinadiole, Epoxy-echinadiole, Echinaxanthole, Dihydro-xynardole, Polyacetylened, Isobutylalkylamines, Betain, Resins, Insulin, Sesquiterpene Esters and Aromatic Ethereal Oils Humulene & Caryophylene.

Echinacea are herbaceous perennials of the daisy family. Echinacea may have either simple or branched stems. The flowers are large and daisy-like and are sometimes known as coneflowers because of the raised capitulum containing disc florets to which are attached ray florets. It has a faint aromatic smell, with a sweetish taste, leaving a tingling sensation in the mouth not unlike Aconitum napellus, but without its lasting numbing effect. Of the nine Echinacea species, E. angustifolia, E. purpurea, and E. pallida are the most commonly used. All are used to boost the immune system and fight infections, but only the purpurea and pallida varieties have been definitively proven effective. In general, the medicinal effects of the leaves are better documented than the effects of the roots.

Author: Life Enthusiast Staff