Echinacea used to be king when it came to medicine. With the advent of antibiotics, this plant became less common in drugstores and pharmacies. Today, the plant is enjoying a resurgence as people look to traditional medicines instead of antibiotics to cure common ailments. Echinacea is a powerful herbal remedy that can help prevent the common cold while boosting overall health. Antibacterial and antiviral properties help to prevent infections while the fresh fragrance can boost mood and decrease stress. Read on to find out the benefits of echinacea.
What is Echinacea?
Echinacea is an herb derived from a flowering plant known as the American coneflower. Echinacea is part of the daisy family known as Asteraceae and is native to North America. There are ten species of echinacea, which are found exclusively in eastern and central North America including the United States. Three species—Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea pallida and Echinacea angustifolia are the most commonly used in herbal medicines.
The herb has been used as a natural remedy for hundreds of years by Native American tribes including the Great Plains Indians. The roots, flowers, leaves, and stems are all used to make herbal supplements and natural cures. The different species can be distinguished by either a yellow or purple coneflower as well as different leaf structures.
Echinacea herbal medicine vary depending on the species of echinacea used as well as the plant parts incorporated into the medicine. Echinacea essential oils and echinacea extracts can be cold pressed from leaves and flowers.
While the herbal supplements may vary, most offer the same basic health benefits. There is evidence to suggest that Echinacea plant parts above the ground are more powerful health agents than root systems. That’s because echinacea leaves and stems are packed with polysaccharides and vitamin C. Most echinacea extracts thus are made using the leaves and stems.
Health Benefits of Echinacea
1. Supports Immune Health
Echinacea is a powerful remedy against the common cold and flu thanks to its immune system-boosting properties. These echinacea benefits are among the most well-researched. It boasts antibacterial properties that can help fend off invading pathogens that make you sick. Echinacea also boasts soothing properties that can help alleviate sore throat pain.
A meta-analysis published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal examined the impact of echinacea on the immune system in 14 studies. Researchers found that Echinacea decreased the risk of contracting the common cold by 58 percent. Not only did echinacea prevent colds, it was also shown to shorten recovery time by one and a half days. That means even if you do catch a cold, you’ll be back on your feet sooner by taking echinacea.
Echinacea helps to eliminate free radicals that can cause oxidative stress and leave your body more prone to disease and infection. Research shows that echinacea is most powerful at the first signs of cold symptoms. Once you start feeling sick, it’s a good idea to take 10 milligrams of echinacea every day to stave off the cold.
2. Treats Skin Disorders
Echinacea boasts anti-inflammatory properties that may help soothe skin irritation and treat chronic skin diseases such as eczema. Research has also shown that echinacea may speed up wound healing and shorten recovery time. Native tribes used this high quality plant to treat bug bites, stings, and rashes.
A study published in the International Journal of Cosmetic Science examined the effects of echinacea on skin. The study consisted of 10 volunteers between the ages of 25 and 40 Researchers found that daily application of echinacea cream or gel decreased wrinkles by 9.47 percent and 14.92 percent respectively. Echinacea cream also increased skin hydration.
3. Relieves Pain
Echinacea was first used by Native Americans as a natural painkiller. The herb is believed to soothe pains associated with everything from tooth pain to rheumatoid arthritis.
Echinacea products can be applied topically or consumed internally to treat pain. Echinacea tea is particularly useful for treating digestive pain such as cramps and irritable bowel syndrome. Echinacea can also be applied topically to alleviate pain from snake bites and other cuts and scrapes.
A randomized, double-blind study published in Evidence-based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that people who used echinacea used fewer pain medications to treat symptoms of common cold and discomfort. Echinacea may be useful in treating body ache and joint pain associated with serious disease as well as from the common cold.
4. Fights Off Infections
The antibacterial powers of echinacea help fight infections and keep you healthy. Echinacea has been shown to help treat or prevent vaginal yeast infections, bloodstream infections, and urinary tract infections.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition examined the effects of polysaccharides and other chemical compounds in echinacea on infections. Researchers found that echinacea may be effective in the treatment of infections such as HIV. Chemical compounds in echinacea work to prevent the replication of damaged cells.
Researchers attribute the antiviral activates of echinacea to compounds including cichoric acid, caffeic acid, and other polyphenols. Some smaller studies have also shown that echinacea a may boost white blood cell counts to prevent infection. Today, there are ongoing studies examining the effectiveness of echinacea on a host of infections including genital herpes.
5. Boosts Mood
The fragrance of echinacea may boost mood and decrease feelings of anxiety and depression. Like many other essential oils and herbs, echinacea works on a chemical level to reduce stress hormones. The scent of echinacea may trigger the release of the happy hormone dopamine and lower levels of cortisol—the stress hormone.
6. Soothes Respiratory Ailments
Echinacea may help treat asthma and upper respiratory tract infections caused by allergies or the common cold. Echinacea works to decrease airway resistance by relaxing inflamed muscles that can constrict breathing. Echinacea also helps to suppress histamine that can cause asthmatic responses to allergens.
A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology investigated the impacts of echinacea in the treatment of respiratory disorders. Researchers found that echinacea is a bronchodilator and has anti-inflammatory effects similar to synthetic drugs used in the treatment of asthma.
Side Effects of Echinacea
While echinacea benefits are well established, it also has few side effects when used at moderate amounts for short time periods. According to WebMD, most of these side effects are reversible by stopping use of echinacea. Echinacea has not been shown to have any drug interactions, but it’s still a good idea to seek medical advice before use. Here are a few things to watch out for when using echinacea.
The most common side effect associated with echinacea is digestive tract disruption. The scent of echinacea can cause nausea in some individuals. Chemical compounds in echinacea may also cause stomach pain including cramps. Monitor your body’s reaction and adjust your intake accordingly.
Some people including small children may develop allergic reactions to echinacea. This is particularly common for people who are allergic to other flowering plants in the Asteraceae family. Allergic reactions are characterized by skin irritation, which may include a rash, hives, and red skin.
Pregnancy and Use For Children
Current research has not shown any side effects of using echinacea during pregnancy. To be on the safe side, consult with your physician before taking echinacea supplements or drinking it as an herbal tea. There may be side effects that outweigh echinacea benefits.
In Europe, including Germany and the United Kingdom, many organizations caution against echinacea use in children. The Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) advises parents not to give children under the age of 12 echinacea products.
The main concern is that children can develop serious allergic reactions to the plant products more easily than adults. Avoid using echinacea on children under 12 to be safe.