Echinacea
Photo Credit| Lorri37;Flickr 2010

Echinacea has become one of the most popular herbal supplements in United States and beyond. Originally discovered by Native Americans, Echinacea was considered the ultimate cure for many different medical conditions for nearly 400 years. Its immune boosting effects were said to have cured everything from headaches to blood infections during that time. Echinacea is a perennial herb that usually grows well in the Midwestern portion of North America. This herb is characterized by tall stems, a central cone that is brown or purple in color, and either pink or purple flowers. It is considered part of the Aster or Daisy family. Due to popularity and over harvesting in the wild, the Echinacea plant is also considered endangered.

Prior to the introduction of antibiotics, Echinacea was used to treat malaria, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and several other life threatening conditions. However, in recent times the most common use of the herb is for treating common cold and flu-like symptoms. Several clinical trials have also suggested Echinacea has inflammation, pain, and immune boosting effects, although this has never been definitively proven. It has also been said that those who take Echinacea at the start of cold symptoms can reduce their sickness by as much as four days. Many professional herbalists have also suggested Echinacea to cure hormonal ills, such as PMS and menopause. It has also been suggested that Echinacea can help reduce symptoms of common infections, such as ear infections and yeast infections. Externally, Echinacea has been used to treat skin wounds and skin infections.

The reason Echinacea is so effective is twofold. Each part of the plant, the roots and the upper portion, contain benefits to the human body. The roots contain high levels of volatile oils, which are known for treating flu-like symptoms. The upper portion of the plant, including leaves and stem, contain polysaccharides. It is these polysaccharides that are said to increase the immune system. It is the combination of these two parts that become most effective when taking Echinacea. Most capsules purchased in health stores today contain both parts of the plant. Due to intense chemical properties, Echinacea should not be taken with other medications as it may cause an ill reaction depending on the ingredients of the other substance. If pregnant or breastfeeding it is important to use caution when taking any type of herbal supplement, including Echinacea. Always check with a professional herbalist or doctor prior to taking Echinacea.

For additional information on Echinacea, please read the following: