Most people in the country have at least heard of Echinacea, if for no other reason than a well-meaning relative or colleague talked up its good graces during cold and flu season. It’s native to the North American prairies and was used for hundreds of years by Plains Indians before European colonizers began pushing west. Echinacea angustifolia was used medicinally for everything from snakebites to anthrax infections. Early settlers found it helpful against many other issues, and infections: sore throats, UTI, and ear infections. They used it as a poultice for skin wounds, or burns.
Today, it retains its folk-reputation for helping fight colds. Studies have shown conflicting evidence at how well it does its job. Some studies don’t find it useful beyond all doubt, others sing its praises.
Why the dispute?
Well, it depends on what the study was actually testing for in its parameters. There’s a large amount of evidence in studies showing Echinacea is helpful when you feel a dip in your immunity, like you can “feel” a cold coming on. It is not always as useful as other herbs (elderberry, goldenseal, etc.), which may be more effective once the cold has descended. Also, everyone’s different. What works for you may not work for everyone. Echinacea is a preventative against full manifestation of an illness, but not always the cure for the common cold.
Scientists from the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy reviewed over a dozen studies on the effects of Echinacea and the risk of catching an infection. Their studies bore out that Echinacea demolished the chances of catching a common cold by 58 percent. WOW. Hey, if I don’t have to get sick in the first place, what could be better than that? Their findings were published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases.
And in 2015 the Journal of Enthnopharmacology discovered that Echinacea had extraordinarily significant “bronchodilatory and anti-inflammatory effects”, as powerful as synthetics (aka drugs). This made for very sounds scientific basis for its use in treating allergic disorders and asthma. It also appears to be contain phenols and other chemicals that fights off yeast in the body.
The easiest ways to get a hold of Echinacea products in your local health food sores is as capsule, tablets, extracts and tea.
1) Don’t take Echinacea with caffeine (coffee, black tea). Echinacea has been shown to decrease the efficiency with which the body breaks down caffeine, thereby keeping too much caffeine in the bloodstream, enhancing “yucky” side effects, like increase heart rate, headaches, anxiety and jitteriness.
2) There are concerns about the quality of some Echinacea products on the market. Don’t be fooled by terms of standardization on the label, always do your due diligence and call the company for more information if you are concerned, as some Echinacea products have been contaminated with arsenic and lead.
Contraindications: Echinacea may cause allergic reactions for those who are allergic to ragweed, mums, marigolds, or daisies. If you have allergies, take precautions and speak to your health care practitioner about Echinacea. Likewise, anything that modulates the immune system can affect those with autoimmunity.