Although echinacea has become very popular in the last few years, its potential has yet to be fully understood.
Resembling a black-eyed Susan, echinacea is a North American perennial indigenous to the central plains where it grows on road banks, fields and in dry, open woods. Commonly known as the coneflower, echinacea can be found growing as a wildflower in the prairies, the midwest states and as far south as Texas. Today it is grown as both an ornamental and a cultivated herb. Of the several varieties of echinacea, the three most popular are purpurea, angustifolia and pallida.
Health Benefits—More Than Just a Pretty Flower
The Plains Indians used echinacea to treat toothache, sore throat, wounds, mumps, smallpox, measles, and poisonous insect and snake bites. The settlers quickly adopted the therapeutic uses of the plant. Echinacea is now one of the top selling herbs in North America.
Echinacea today is traditionally used in Herbal Medicine to help relieve the symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections (Barnes et al 2007; Blumenthal et al. 2000; Ellingwood 1983 (1919); Felter and Lloyd 1983 (1898); Grieve 1971(1931)) . Echinacea is also traditionally used today in Herbal Medicine to help relieve sore throats (Blumenthal et al.2000; Moerman 1998)
Echinacea is harvested for the roots, flowerheads, seeds and aerial parts and can be made into capsules, extracts, tinctures and tea.
The constituents of echinacea include essential oil, polysaccharides, polyacetylenes, betain, glycoside, sesquiterpenes and caryophylene. It also contains copper, iron, tannins, protein, fatty acids and vitamins A, C, and E.
When buying echinacea, freshness is important. Dried roots and powdered herbs in capsules can be old, minimizing their effectiveness, so look for fresh root tincture in natural food stores. A tincture is simply a “steeped” mixture of the herb in alcohol.