By Sarena-Rae Santos, Contributing Writer
What is Echinacea?
Echinacea is sometimes referred to as Purple coneflower, Black-Samson echinacea, or its botanical name Echinacea Angustifolia. Echinacea has a hairy stem with a single flower at the end of the stout. The flowers have 15 to 20 pink to light purple notched teeth petals and long, narrow leaves towards the bottom of the stem (1).
Health Benefits of Echinacea
There are nine species of echinacea, but only three are used in herbal supplements — Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea Angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida (2). Both the plant’s upper parts and roots are used for medicinal purposes, such as:
High in Antioxidants
Antioxidants can help fight damage from harmful free radicals. The buildup of free radicals has been linked to chronic diseases, such as cancer and heart disease. Echinacea’s plant compounds, such as flavonoids, cichoric acid, and rosmarinic acid, function as antioxidants (3). These antioxidant properties appear more significant in the plants’ fruit and flowers than in the leaves and roots (4,5).
Additionally, echinacea plants contain compounds called alkamides, which can renew worn-out antioxidants, enhancing antioxidant activity. Alkamides assist antioxidants in reaching better molecules that are prone to oxidative stress (6).
May Support the Immune System
The immune system protects the body from outside invaders, such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other toxins (7). When you support your immune system, you potentially support your body’s ability to fight off sickness. A study review found that echinacea may lower the risk of cold development by more than 50% and shorten their duration by one and a half days (8).
May Treat & Prevent Infections
A substance or herb that stops or slows down the growth of microorganisms, which can prevent and treat infections, has antiseptic properties (9). Echinacea’s immune-supporting properties may treat and prevent infections. One study discovered that aside from recovering from colds faster, echinacea can help your immune system combat infections, viruses, and even wound healing (10).
Echinacea is well-known for its anti-inflammatory properties, thanks to its wide array of plant compounds that assist in combating inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked with many diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, and certain cancers (11).
Several studies have uncovered echinacea’s ability to combat excess inflammation. An animal study found echinacea compounds helped reduce important inflammatory markers and memory loss caused by inflammation in mice (12). Another study found adults with osteoarthritis who took a supplement containing echinacea extract significantly reduced inflammation, chronic pain, and swelling, which didn’t respond well to conventional non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) (13).
Supports Skin Health
Echinacea’s anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antiseptic properties make this herb an excellent option for improving skin health. Research has shown that echinacea may help treat common skin concerns such as acne, wrinkles, and even eczema.
In vitro, researchers discovered that echinacea’s anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties suppressed the growth of Propionibacterium, a common cause of acne (14). In another study containing ten healthy participants aged between 25 and 40, echinacea-containing skin care products improved skin hydration and reduced the appearance of wrinkles (15). A final study found an echinacea-containing cream demonstrated improvement of eczema symptoms and helped repair the skin’s protective outer layer (16).
May Lower Blood Sugar Levels
In vitro, echinacea has demonstrated the ability to help decrease blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. One study found echinacea suppressed enzymes that digest carbohydrates, reducing sugar entering the blood when consumed (17). Other studies discovered that echinacea extracts activated the PPAR-y receptor (a common target of diabetes drugs) and made cells more sensitive to insulin’s effects (18,19).
May Reduce Anxiety
Twenty percent of American adults are affected by anxiety (20). Animal and human studies have found echinacea plants may reduce feelings of anxiety. This anti-anxiety effect is possible due to plant compounds such as alkamides, rosmarinic acid, and caffeic acid (21). In an animal study, 60 percent of echinacea samples helped reduce anxiety in mice without interrupting activity levels (22). Another study found echinacea to rapidly reduce feelings of anxiety in mice and human trials (23).
Statistics say that 158.3 of every 100,000 individuals will die from cancer, but what if they didn’t have to (24)? Several in vitro studies have discovered echinacea may offer protection against cancer, which is believed to occur due to echinacea’s immune-boosting properties (25). One study demonstrated echinacea’s ability to suppress cancer cell growth in colon and pancreatic cancer (26). Another study uncovered echinacea’s ability to trigger cancer cell death (27).
As per trusted herbalist Richard Whelan, echinacea is exceptionally safe to take, even in high or frequent doses, by the young or old and by pregnant or breast-feeding women. The only time I would stop to think about its use potentially being unwise is with a person with an auto-immune condition. Even then, I would not automatically count it out in every case because many auto-immune problems have unresolved infections at their root.
It is widely believed that taking echinacea over long periods causes it to lose its effectiveness. Consequently, people are often recommended to take echinacea for no longer than ten days before taking a break.
This belief came about from a widely quoted German study published in 1989, which showed that the increase in phagocytosis from taking echinacea started to decline after taking the herb for 5 or 6 days and then slowly dropped back to a plateau by about day 10.
However, simply through an inadequate translation from German, what was not made clear in the reporting of this study is that the volunteers stopped taking their echinacea on day 5! The study showed that echinacea’s benefits took a few days to wear off, but it was completely misunderstood and misinterpreted. From this small mistake, an enduring myth has been born.
Echinacea can undoubtedly be used long-term without losing its overall immune-enhancing effects. The increase in white blood cell counts goes back to normal levels in healthy subjects (it remains high in sick people). Still, it has been proven in subsequent studies that phagocytosis (the level of activity of the white blood cells) does not diminish with continued echinacea use (28).
How to Use Echinacea
You can find echinacea in dried bulk, pills, powders, teas, extracts, or tinctures. Tinctures always contain the most concentrated amount of herbs. Teas and soups are also options, especially when following ayurvedic medicine recipes. If you’re a DIY person, some great starter recipes are:
Follow the recommendations of any supplement; some of my recommendations include:
- Earthley’s Anti-Inflammatory was created for the common inflammation that can flare up from low immunity or an illness. This herbal extract helps to calm the body, reduce inflammation, and provide immune support. It can even help improve your mood!
- Earthley’s Cold Sore Serum is infused with antiviral herbs in a soothing oil base to fight cold sores, reduce inflammation and pain, and promote healing. Earthley took cucumber seed oil (great for mature or damaged skin), which absorbs easily without clogging pores. We infused it with key anti-viral herbs (lemon balm, elder flowers, echinacea, and turmeric) to heal cold sores quickly and naturally.
- Earthley’s Digest Ease promotes healthy digestion and helps with leaky gut symptoms. It can be used regularly to promote overall gut health and wellness or occasionally to relieve mild stomach upset. This combination of herbs helps to coat an irritated gut, relieve an overactive gut, reduce inflammation, and boost your immune system. It can help soothe IBS, food allergies, elimination issues, gas, and more. It’s a necessary part of your natural remedy cabinet!
- Earthley’s Feel Better Fast is an herbal tincture created to knock out coughs, sniffles, and upset tummies in no time. Rather than cover up your symptoms with OTC meds that have side effects, nourish yourself with vitamins and minerals to help your body actually heal itself quicker!
- Herbal Throat Spray provides relief from sore throats without compromising ingredients. This spray is infused with anti-viral herbs and has a pleasant, sweet flavor. Banish sore throats naturally with cooling peppermint while your immune system gets the support it needs.
- Earthley’s Immune-Biotic is the perfect go-to herbal remedy for when you are feeling under the weather and need something fast. This tincture uses the natural power of immune-supporting herbs to give your body a jump start to fight off a cold. Take for three to seven days and kick sickness to the curb.
- Earthley’s Immunity Soup helps support your immune system while enjoying a yummy soup, stock, or whatever meal you’d like! Simply simmer, strain, and add to your recipe for added flavor and nutrients.
Disclaimer: This post is not intended as medical advice. These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA, and nothing in this post is intended to diagnose, treat, or cure anything. If you have questions, please do your own research or seek advice from a health professional.