56—This blog-post is long over-due...

A lament to Echinacea

The different varietals of Echinacea are displayed on a box

You're just a bunch of snivelling users!

Echinacea would have to be one of the most popular medicinal herbs used by consumers. Yet I hardly ever get requests for this herb from my clients.

Echinacea would also have to be the most misused and the most under-rated medicinal herb there is. What do I mean? Using Echinacea for the common cold is like taking a Lamborghini for a test-drive because you need somewhere comfortable to sit!

This is everyone’s go-to herb when they have the common cold. But ironically enough, Echinacea ‘isn’t much chop’ at fixing this common upper-respiratory condition. Research shows that when only taken at the time of infection, there is no significant improvement in severity or duration of cold symptoms. Taken as required: Echinacea only reduces the duration of ‘a cold’ by half a day.

There is a theory that if you increase the dose (to 3—4 times the standard dose), you may decrease the duration of your infection by up to one day1. But really? Big whoopee-doo.

Be in your prime

Taken long term, Echinacea primes the immune system to quickly and efficiently respond to invaders. This ‘seek and destroy’ aspect of the immune system is known as innate immunity. Echinacea gives the immune system staying power — it stabilises the response, and sustains it — making it very powerful at times of infection. Taken this way it is excellent at preventing colds, combatting chronic infection, and regulating auto-immune conditions. (The profound effects of this herb can take a couple of weeks to ‘kick in’.)

Note: Taking Echinacea on a consistent basis does not wear out the immune system.

Medical Herbalists also use Echinacea for preventing ageing and for combating depression & stress!

Note: Traditionally, The Lokata Indians used this herb for fatigue, and as a general tonic.

The only time I ever prescribe Echinacea at the time of infection

If a client is suspected to have ‘Strep Throat’, I will prescribe a specific type of Echinacea (E. angustifolia) in a herbal formula.  In order to spread colonies of bacteria, Strep Throat secretes large amounts of hyaluronic acid. The caffeic acid esters in E. angustifolia have anti-hyaluronidase activity which can help enhance tissue resistance to the spread of infection.

Note: I would use E. angustifolia in a herbal mixture with Golden Seal.

Echinacea can be used to treat the following conditions:

  1. Poor or compromised immunity (you catch everyones bugs)

    This can result from chronic stress, poor nutrition, or where you have another health condition that causes this devitalised state.

  2. Infection of ANY kind

    Urinary Tract Infection (UTI), Hepatitis, and Candidiasis (and more specifically Thrush).

    Note: Check out my blog-post on Candida albicans for more details on this common yeast infection.

  3. Chronic infections

    Echinacea is a superstar when treating all long-term or lingering infections.

  4. Cancer + Chemotherapy + Radiation

    The use in these conditions is somewhat controversial. (This uncertainty is generally among those people that are not familiar with this medicinal herb.)

  5. Skin conditions

    Eczema, psoriasis, boils, impetigo and poorly healing wounds.

  6. Auto-immune issues

    Rheumatoid Arthritis, Multiple Sclerosis, Ankalosing Spondylitis, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohns Disease, Lupus, and Myasthenia Gravis.

    Note: The use of this herb for these conditions is also somewhat controversial. (Again, this is generally the case among those people that are not familiar with this medicinal herb.)

  7. Ageing

    Promotes healthy longevity by reducing infections & decreasing cancer risk.

Don’t forget that the immune system doesn’t just fight ‘invaders’, it is also highly skilled at repairing + regenerating your body!

Two beautiful flower heads of the Echinacea plant to compare to the health benefits of Cannabis

Echinacea is all action

  1. It's an Anti-inflammatory

  2. It's an Adaptogen
    (immune focused)

    Echinacea has recently been found to regulate the HPA axis (one of the master controlling systems in our body)

    Note: This herb would be fantastic for someone whose immune system had the tendency to ‘crash’ when stressed.

  3. It's both Immune-modulating + Immune-enhancing

    Echinacea increases NK cells and Phagocytosis.

    It also down-regulates inflammation, increases Heat Shock Proteins (HSP), and is active in the Endocannabinoid system. (More on this system, below!)

  4. It's a Depurative

    This means Echinacea improves detoxification and aids elimination.

  5. It's a Lymphatic

    This herb assists detoxification and improves immune function.

  6. It's a Vulnerary

    Echinacea heals wounds when applied locally.

    Note: It’s particularly effect for snake bites!

  7. It's also a Sialagogue (just FYI)

    Echinacea increases the secretion of the salivary glands. (If you’ve tried ‘real’ Echinacea, then I’m sure you’ll know what I’m talking about!)

Nature's Popping Candy

You will experience a persistent tingling (or buzzing) sensation from high quality Echinacea. This means that the active constituents (Alkylamides) are present because the correct part of the plant (the root) has been used.

If you’re into the idea of Alkylamides, but not so much into their taste profile (it really does make your mouth go ‘mental’ for a sustained period of time) then simply use the ‘One-Two’ method:

1— Take your 5ml of Echinacea with 10—15ml of cold water.
2— Directly chase this down with 15—30ml of warm water.

OR, you could just take two tablets of Practitioner Grade Echinacea. These tablets are equally as potent as taking the liquid herb.

Find your bliss with Echinacea

The Endocannabinoid system is a homeostatic signalling system within your body (meaning it keeps our nervous + hormonal + immune systems in balance).

As part of this system, your body makes a chemical called Anandamide (‘Ananda’ means bliss in sanskrit). Interestingly, the Alkylamides in Echinacea mimic this endocannabinoid — which makes you feel blissful, joyful, or delighted!

Note: This herb would be of great benefit to anyone suffering from depression or stress due to chronic infection or auto-immune conditions.

Lisa says:

What he said

There is a lot of conflicting information out there on Echinacea. This is in regards to:

— What part of the plant should be used
— What the ‘hero’ constituent is
— What species should be used, and
— What can and cannot be done with this herb.

Associate Professor Kerry Bone is my (medical herbalist) Guru. He is an accomplished industrial chemist who co-founded MediHerb and resides as their head of research and development. In the industry he is known as ‘Mr Echinacea’.

Kerry Bone says: ‘Echinacea provides immune insurance’.

His research indicates that in order for Echinacea to be effective, you should:
— Take it on a daily basis
— Take at least a 2.5g root preparation of an E. augustifolia + E. purpurea blend.

Note: 5ml liquid herb or two tablets of a Practitioner Grade Echinacea Blend is the equivalent of 2.5g root.

— Be able to detect the Alkylamides (these are indicative of quality.

Note: With Echinacea, cost is actually your best  indicator of quality. ‘The good stuff’ isn’t cheap! It’s around 27-33c per millilitre, and it’s about $55-65 for a bottle of tablets (60 tablets). If cost is an issue for you, your Naturopath will come up with a series of effective solutions that will suit both your budget and your healthcare objectives.


We have the final say

Talk to your Medical Herbalist to see if Echinacea is right for you.

If need be, we can combine this amazing herb into a specific formula for you, based on your particular needs, such as chronic infection, stress, depression, or healthy ageing. Or, we can advise you on other herbs or remedies that may be more appropriate for you.

Note: We only ever stock the ‘good stuff’ – Practitioner Grade medicinal herbs and supplements.

To realise Echinacea's full immune potential use it long term

Make an appointment with Lisa

Lisa Fitzgibbon is a degree qualified (2006), experienced and registered Naturopath & Medical Herbalist. She runs her own private practice – OOMPH in Grey Lynn, Auckland, New Zealand.

Lisa has been involved in the Natural Health industry for 16 years. She draws on her professional training and experience, as well as her own personal experience to bring you realistic, holistic health advice.

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