Monday, March 24, 2014
In the midst of this flu season, I would like to educate my dear readers about Echinacea. There is much conflicting research about echinacea. Why is that? Is it worth taking? Why is there such a variation in price? How long is it safe to take? What would you take it for?
Echinacea is known to gardeners as the purple coneflower. It is a wild species of the American prairies. Native Americans used it for everything from boosting their alertness/energy to treating rattle snake bites. It has been used by traditional herbalists for as long as there has been traditional herbalists. It is imported by the rest of the world from America. There are three common species of echinacea. Two are used by herbalists. The two varieties are Echinacea Purpurea and Echinacea Angustifolia. So what is the difference? The E.Purpurea species matures in three years and the E.Angustifolia species takes ten years. Most herbal companies use the E.Purpurea species as it is much less expensive to grow and harvest because of the time to maturity difference.
The active ingredient in echinacea are the alkyl amides. That is the immune modulating portion of the herb. I say modulating, because herbs bring or modulate a system to normal or healthy. Thus Echinacea is perfectly safe to take whether you are sick with the flu or have an auto-immune disorder. Some people, mostly in the medical profession, think that because echinacea helps boost the immune system that it is dangerous to take if you have an auto immune disorder. This is simply applying pharmacological thinking to herbal principles. They do not correlate very closely at all. The alkyl amides are only found in the roots of the echinacea plant. The leaves and flowering parts can be bought fairly inexpensively, so that is what is used in many echinacea products. The alkyl amides can only be extracted by alcohol. So a glycerin preparation is not very useful at all.
Echinacea has a multitude of uses. I use it all the time and it has saved me many trips to the doctor. I use it on any kind of cut or skin infection. We use 'echinacea bandages' at our house. We put echinacea on the pad of a band-aid and apply it over the sore. We will change the band-aid 2-3 times a day. An outer ear infection can be cleared up in very short order by dipping a cotton swab in the echinacea and gently sticking it in the ear canal for ten minutes. If the skin is abraded then you might want to dilute it with pure water 50%. Do this morning and evening and within 48 hours it will be 100% better. Echinacea swabbed on a mosquito bite will remove the itch within five minutes. Echinacea can be applied on a wart with an 'echinacea bandage' and they will be gone within 2 weeks. I have used it on all different skin infections and seen them clear quickly. A sore throat is helped by gargling diluted echinacea. Then there is the common use of echinacea when it is taken internally. It is useful for building immunity. We use it at our house at the first sign of illness. There has been interesting double blind studies done on college students who took tableted echinacea 2x a day for 2 years and it was found they had 80% less colds and flus than the control group. There is absolutely no problem with taking echinacea everyday of your life. The idea that you can only take echinacea for a short time is an urban legend that is based on an incorrectly interpreted research project. This wrong idea has been disproven, but the urban legend lives on. Echinacea has also been shown to modulate adrenal function.
So how do you know if you are getting the 'right' echinacea? Start off by reading the small print on the side of the bottle. It must say "Echinacea Angustifolia root" and be an alcohol extraction. Avoid anything that says proprietory blend.or doesn't list the specific species and plant part. The second step is a taste test. Put a few drops in your mouth, or suck on the tablet and see if it makes your mouth buzz like a bunch of bees are in there and make your saliva start running strongly. If that doesn't happen then you are wasting your money to buy that product. The alkyl amides cause that reaction and since they are the part that has the immune modulating activity then if it doesn't react that way you can know that they aren't present and the product won't be helpful! Echinacea tea has very little if any benefit, other than as a hot beverage. As a physician, I get all my echinacea from Medi-Herb. They have the highest quality herbal products on the market, although they only sell to health care professionals. For those that want to make their own, I would buy the echinacea angustafolia root from Mountain Rose Herbs and then use alcohol and follow the normal methodology for making an herbal preparation. Otherwise, contact me and I will be happy to get you your own supply of excellent quality echinacea angustifolia.