Herbfacts

Herb Health: Echinacea

One way to combat viruses – especially colds – is to strengthen our immune system, and one of the most popular choice for herbalists is the herb echinacea.  It is widely available and a great choice for giving our immune systems a boost and protecting us from some of the common cold and flu viruses that we face every day.

WHERE DOES IT COME FROM?

Echinacea, a member of the Asteraceae family, originates from North America where it was traditionally used by native Americans as a blood cleanser and to treat snake bites and infections. During his travels to North America in the 50’s, the famous naturopath Alfred Vogel spent some time with the Sioux Indian tribe in South Dakota where he became great friends with a medicine man by the name of Black Elk. On returning to Europe, Vogel received a gift of some echinacea seeds from Black Elk, which he cultivated and in time they were developed into the herbal medicine that we know today.

A great deal of research has been carried out on this wonderful herb in the last couple of decades  – read on to discover some of its myriad benefits.

USES

COLD AND VIRUSES

Although studies have provided mixed results in the efficacy of echinacea in both the prevention and treatment of viral infections, one of the biggest studies undertaken showed that taking echinacea not only reduced the incidence of contracting the virus but also, if taken early in higher doses, might actually reduce the duration of the virus as well as the incidence of secondary infections such as chest infections.

A recent study by the Cardiff University Common Cold Centre – reportedly the largest ever, involving 750 people – showed that taking three daily doses of echinacea for four months reduced both the incidence and duration of the virus.

Scientists from the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy reviewed over a dozen studies on the effects of echinacea on people’s risk of catching a cold and concluded that echinacea can reduce the chances of catching a cold by approximately 58 per cent.

FUNGAL INFECTIONS

Some studies claim that echinacea exhibits anti-fungal activity. It may have a role to play in the treatment of common conditions such as candida when combined with other herbs such as garlic. It may also be used both internally and topically to treat athlete’s foot.

ANTI-VIRAL

Chronic viral conditions such as molluscum (very common in school children) and herpes infections such as cold sores and shingles have been shown to respond well to regular doses of echinacea.

SKIN PROBLEMS

Echinacea cream can be applied to various bacterial skin infections such as boils and ulcers where it appears to help fight bacterial infections and boost the healing response.

WATCHPOINTS

Echinacea is generally well tolerated by most of us, however allergies to this herb have been reported and it should only be given to children under the supervision of a medical practitioner or medical herbalist.

It should be avoided if you are currently taking immune suppressing medications and some sources also claim that it should not be used if you are suffering from severe autoimmune disorders.