Medicinal Herbs - Echinacea, Mother Nature's Herbal Antibiotic
History & Lore of Echinacea
Echinacea has been used for centuries by herbalists and wise men and women. The Native Americans used echinacea as a cure-all from everything from colds to cancer. In fact, most of the information today's herbalists have on echinacea was passed down from early Native Americans.
Some people know echinacea by some of its other names. In southern parts of the United States, it is usually called Purple Coneflower, or simply Coneflower. Sometimes it is also called Kansas Snake Root or Elk Root.
There are nine species of echinacea, but the commonly used ones for medicinal purposes are Echinacea augustifolia, Echinacea purpurea, and Echinacea pallida. Echinacea augustifolia is the variety that was used amongst Native Americans for medicinal purposes - it is also the most endangered variety. Some herbalists claim that Echinacea augustifolia is the strongest medicinal amongst all the varieties of echinacea, while others will say that each variety will serve the purpose that it is being used for.
Echinacea is a daisy-like plant that is a relative of the aster family. Other similar plants in this family include Black-Eyed Susan and Ragweed. Echinacea resembles it's relative, the Black-Eyed Susan, but is more of a purple hue.
It can be found growing wild in areas like Arkansas, Oklahoma, Montana, and Kansas. However, the wild echinaea populations are beginning to dwindle due to over-harvesting. This is why it is always important that when you're harvesting out in the wild that you only take what you really need.
Have you ever used Echinacea to treat a cold or flu?
Echinacea for Cold and Flu
Echinacea is a very powerful, natural antibiotic that can be harvested in the wild, or grown in your own flower garden. The root of the plant is the part with the most abundant medicinal qualities locked away, but some people do enjoy using the seeds, leaves, and flowers for teas and tinctures. No part of the plant goes to waste!
This wonder herb can be used for a variety of things, but it is most commonly used to prevent, as well as to treat, cold and flu symptoms. Echinacea is amazing at combating cold and flu symptoms, because it helps the body to accelerate healing and aids the body in fighting infections. The way it works is that it super-charges the particle ingestion capabilities of white blood cells, which helps increase their chances of fighting off infections.
Unlike most antibiotics, echinacea does not destroy healthy gut flora. Maintaining healthy gut flora is extremely crucial for your body to stay healthy and strong. When you destroy healthy gut flora (like you do with pharmaceutical antibiotics) you weaken your body and cause it to become more susceptible to getting sick.
Echinacea also helps to keep fever low enough to prevent convulsions, which is the part that most people fear when they think of fever. Having a fever is actually a good thing, because it means that your body is fighting off the infection. The only time to be concerned with a fever is if it stays at a high level for a steady amount of time. Sipping echinacea tea or infusion during a fever can keep it low enough that you wont enter into a dangerously high level of fever.
When dealing with the early onsets of a cold or flu, one of the first ways to start off taking echinacea would be with a tea. Teas are rather weak herbal medicine, but they can do the job at the early onset of an illness. If the cold or flu is more advanced, echinacea in a tincture form or as an infusion may need to be used.
The amount of echinacea to use will depend on what kind of ailment you have, and how severe it is. Do your own research and consult with an herbalist on the proper procedures.
- Helps fight infections
- Blood purifier
- Accelerates healing
- Fever reducer
- Natural antibiotic
Many Benefits of Echinacea
Herbalists use echinacea for more than just cold and flu symptoms. It can be used for things ranging from mastitis to herpes (when combined with burdock root). Some people will tout that echinacea is a cure-all and should be consumed regularly. This isn't completely true. As with all herbal allies, echinacea has a variety of uses, but it should be treated with respect and used when needed.
Herbalists sometimes recommend echinacea for:
- Staph Infection
- Influenza (flu)
- Fever in children
- Urinary Tract Infections (UTI)
- Increase lactation
- Tooth Infections
- Umbilical Cord Stump Health
- Strep Throat
- Herpes (typically along with burdock root)
The methods of using echinacea will vary from ailment to ailment, but most herbalists will agree that echinacea should not be taken in capsule form, as most herbal capsules contain herbs that have been dried improperly or the manufacturers used weaker parts of the plant (in the case of echinacea, the seeds, flowers, and leaves).
The best ways to take echinacea are as a tea, an infusion, or as a tincture, but the method of use will vary depending on the ailment. Consult with an herbalist or other medical practitioner about methods and doses.
Best Ways to Take Echinacea
Cold & Flu
Herbalist Susun Weed Discusses Echinacea
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Harvesting Echinacea from the Wild and the Garden
The root is the primary part of the plant that is used for medicinal purposes, however, the leaves and flowers can also be used if you are harvesting from young plants with roots that are too young to use.
When gathering roots, you typically want roots that are roughly 3 years old, as the plant has a higher concentration of alkaloids after the root is 3 years old.
Echinacea is fairly easy to grow. It's not too picky about soil quality. The main thing it demands is full sunlight. The biggest downside to growing it yourself is that you have to wait roughly 3 years before the roots become very useful. However, you can still use the seeds, leaves, and flowers for weaker medicinal purposes. The upside to growing your own echinacea is that you know exactly what has been sprayed (or not sprayed) on it, and you will not run the risk of over-harvesting the wild variety.
Some people will shun gathering echinacea from the wild, because it has been so over-harvested that its wild numbers are dwindling. However, if you wild harvest following the guidelines put into place by the United Plant Savers organization, it should be fine to harvest.
Be mindful of the local ecosystem from where you will be harvesting. If there are only a few echinacea plants in that area, then it is probably best to move on to a different location that is more densely populated with echinacea.
If you would just rather purchase echinacea, one of the best companies to buy herbs from is Mountain Rose Herbs. They are an organic company that follows United Plant Savers guidelines.
Cautions with Echinacea
Echinacea is considered to be a relatively safe medicinal herb amongst herbalist. When using echinacea, it is typically recommended to not take it more than a week or two. This isn't because there are any known complications from taking it for longer, but because there is really no reason to take it beyond the time frame of the ailment it is being used to treat.
It is not an herb that herbalists will recommend taking recreationally, as echinacea is over-harvested and in limited supply. It should only be taken when needed.
Echinacea is related to the plant ragweed. Ragweed is an herb that can cause allergy complications for many people. If you have a known allergy to ragweed, consult with an herbalist or other medical professional before consuming.
There have been some reported cases of echinacea causing gastrointestinal discomfort in some who have taken it. It is likely that these cases were consuming too much echinacea or for too long of a time period. If you experience gastrointestinal discomfort while taking echinacea, consider lowering the dosage that you are using or switch to a different herb.
If you suffer from an autoimmune disease, such as Lupus or Ulcerative Colitis, it is best to consult your health care provider before using echinacea. Echinacea works as an immune stimulate and can aggravate the symptoms of some autoimmune diseases.
Echinacea Side Effects
- Echinacea rarely has any side effects, but some people have reported gastrointestinal upset when consuming echinacea.
- If you are allergic to ragweed, be cautious when using echinacea, as they are related. Consult with an herbalist or other medical practitioner before consuming.
Final Thoughts on Echinacea
As with any plants, you should always have respect for it when harvesting and preparing plants medicines; echinacea is no exception to this rule. Echinacea should only be harvested and consumed after careful research and planning. Respect the plant and, it in turn, will respect you and help heal you.
Echinacea is an amazing and beautiful herbal ally to become acquainted with. There is so much information on it, because it has been one of the most widely researched herbs by herbalists and scientists alike. Do your own research on the herb, but one of the best ways to get acquainted with it is to go outdoors and visit it in person.