I met my husband walking across the country, and it turns out you learn a lot about a person by walking 15+ miles a day with them. At the time, he was a 20-something guy into sports and healthy(ish) eating and I was into academics and pizza (I know, I know… the processed grains and vegetable oils… yikes!).
Discovering Natural Remedies:
After our walk, we had the chance to travel to Europe where my pizza and PB&J habit caught up with me and I got a horrible head cold on the flight over. I landed with an ear infection, cough and sore throat.
Always one to be prepared, my then boyfriend had natural remedies with him on the trip and he force fed me some horrible tasting echinacea tincture. At that time, I was one to turn to antibiotics if I got sick, but that wasn’t an option in a foreign country where I didn’t speak the language and definitely couldn’t navigate the medical system, so I took the nasty tasting tincture that he offered.
To my shock, it worked and I bounced back pretty quickly (yay younger genes and natural remedies!).
Moral of this story?
I definitely have not always been anywhere close to perfect in the nutritional department, so I was intrigued to learn more about natural remedies. In fact, my husband can really take the credit for me starting to research nutrition on a deeper level and learning about natural remedies.
Echinacea was one of the first herbs I researched and while I don’t use it as often now, I’m grateful that it sparked my interest in healthier living.
What is Echinacea?
It is a simple flowering plant and a member of the daisy family. More commonly known as purple coneflower, many people grow this powerful herb without even realizing it! The name derives from the Greek word ekhinos (hedgehog) because the cone resembles a small hedgehog.
What is the Use of Echinacea?
Echinacea purpurea is the species most often used as a natural remedy and in folk medicine. There are 9 distinct species of this plant, though onlyEchinacea purpurea is considered a remedy. A couple of the other species are considered endangered so it is important not to harvest this plant without being certain of which species is being harvested.
The flowers, leaves and roots of this plant can all be used differently in natural remedies. In general, the leaves and flowers are the parts traditionally used in remedies
Where does Echinacea Grow?
Echinacea grows in the central and eastern United States. Native American’s used it as a remedy hundreds of years ago and it is re-gaining popularity in modern times. Those who live in these areas may be able to cultivate this easy-to-grow plant.
Benefits of Echinacea
Modern research is still divided on the effectiveness of echinacea, and there are some contraindications (like autoimmune disease). I personally rarely use this herb anymore, but many people love this traditional remedy.
Of course, it is important to check with a doctor or medical professional before using this or any herb, especially in cases of disease, medical problems, pregnancy, or in children.
Help for cancer?
Some sources claim that this traditional herb may be helpful for those with cancer, though more research is certainly needed.
The immune supporting benefits are much more studied, though again, this can be a double-edged sword for those with autoimmune disease. A meta-analysis of data from the University of Connecticut showed echinacea may reduce the likelihood of getting a common cold by over half. Even more promising, it also reduced the duration of common colds by over a day on average.
The book Nutritional Herbology points out:
The proven actions of Echinacea are due to water-soluble polysaccharides. They act by sequestering the attacks of various microbes and allow the body to heal itself. Upon reaching an infected area, the polysaccharides have an immunostimulant effect, which results in the production of leucocytes (white blood cells). The resulting phagocytic action of the leucocytes effectively eradicates a number of infectious organisms.
In other words, echinacea can help encourage the immune system which may lead to faster recovery from illness, but this can be harmful for those with autoimmune disease. For those without autoimmune disease, there is some evidence that echinacea can help lessen the symptoms of milk illnesses.
WebMD reports common uses:
Echinacea is widely used to fight infections, especially the common cold and other upper respiratory infections. The people who use echinacea to treat symptoms have the right idea. Research to date shows that echinacea probably modestly reduces cold symptoms, but it’s not clear whether it helps prevent colds from developing.
It is also used against many other infections including the flu, urinary tract infections, vaginal yeast infections, genital herpes, bloodstream infections (septicemia), gum disease, tonsillitis, streptococcus infections, syphilis, typhoid, malaria, and diphtheria.
Uses for Echinacea
- I use it in my herbal throat spray for illness
- A tincture of echinacea may be helpful for shortening cold duration
- Echinacea tea is said to help acute symptoms of illness when used for short times
- I prefer to buy the dried leaf of this herb in bulk and make my own remedies as needed but many pre-made remedies are now available.
How do I Make Echinacea Tincture?
A tincture is essentially an extract. Alcohol tinctures are the most common type and the easiest to make, though vinegar or even glycerin will work (here’s how to modify the recipe for a glycerin tincture).
To make an echinacea tincture with alcohol, you will need:
- A clean pint-size glass jar with lid
- Food grade alcohol like vodka or rum- at least 80 proof (or apple cider vinegar to make a vinegar tincture)
- ½ cup dried echinacea leaf (of a mixture of root and leaf)
- Fill the jar 1/3 to 1/2 full with dried echinacea leaf (or leaf+root). Do not pack down.
- Pour boiling water to just dampen all of the dried herb (a few tablespoons). (This step is optional but helps to draw out the beneficial properties of the herbs).
- Fill the rest of the jar (or the entire jar if not using hot water too) with alcohol and stir with a clean spoon.
- Put the lid on the jar. Store the jar in a cool/dry place, shaking daily, for at least three weeks and up to six months. (I usually leave for six weeks)
- Strain through cheesecloth and compost the herbs. Store the tincture in dark colored dropper bottles or clean glass jars.
As I mentioned, I rarely use this particular remedy anymore. Those with autoimmune disease should be careful in using echinacea, astragalus, or many other herbs. Chris Kresser explains:
Why? Because autoimmune disease is not only extremely complex, but also highly individualized. Hashimoto’s in one person is not the same as Hashimoto’s in the next person. In one person, Hashimoto’s could present as a Th1-dominant condition. In another, it may present as Th2 dominant. In still another, both the Th1 and Th2 systems might be overactive, or under-active. And each of these cases requires a different approach. For example, botanicals like echinacea and astragalus stimulate the Th1 system. If someone with Th1 dominant Hashimoto’s takes these herbs, they’ll quite possibly get worse. On the other hand, antioxidants like green tea and Gotu Kola stimulate the Th2 system, and would be inappropriate for those with Th2 dominant Hashimoto’s.
I only use echinacea if absolutely needed with my Hashimotos and usually turn to vitamin C and garlic instead. If you suspect an autoimmune condition, make sure to only use immune stimulating herbs under a doctor’s care.
Echinacea should also not be used by pregnant women without a doctor’s recommendation, as there is not adequate research about its safety and since it can cause immune reactions. Nursing moms should also be cautious with echinacea and children should not use echinacea without a doctors care.
Have you ever used echinacea? Did it work for you?
Discussion (53 Comments)
Thank you so much for your amazing info. Do you have a protocol for cold/flu prevention that is specifically geared for pregnant/nursing women? We are only using the calendar method for now and hope to be pregnant in 2015 but I don’t want to take any oregano oil etc just in case.
I have a weaker constitution than most people and prone to get hit pretty bad when a cold or flu is going around. I’m allergic to elderberry. Bbesides eating garlic and onions regularly and eating organic, staying away from grains and sugar etc, what other kinds of things should a woman be doing preventatively to boost the immune system but that are safe in case she can be pregnant?
Thank you so much for all you do!
We have used Echinacea tincture for years. It’s great for getting rid of any bug bites. We have used Echinacea tincture on our infants and children. It’s also great for numbing sore areas while fighting infection. I have used it to get rid of breast infection with accouple days. Simply put it on after nursing and wipe it off before nursing again.
Hi Beth, im so glad to hear that you have used it with your family and young kids. How young were your kids when you first used it? Can i assume this is without negative side effects? Im very interested in using natural remedies with for myself, while pregnant and nursing.
I’ve used on my infants to dry up bug bites up to my teenagers with no bad side effects. If they have scratched the bit it might sting for a minute when you first put it on. I also used it when I was nursing for breast infection, if I didn’t wash it off before nursing again they would sometimes refuse to nurse. It does taste bad.
hi my name is Eric, and I agree that it works for children also. Especially small doses in toddler juice. My son is 10 now, yet ,I have been giving him echinaecea since 4 in preschool. I open a half capsule in a bottle of orange juice, or a vitamin c soft drink and shake with lemon. Next day, he would be fine, no cough no runny nose, no fever. I consider it a super herb and recommend it to all.
Hi Beth, May I ask, how do you prepare your tinctures?
Oh, I do love echinacea! When I was 16, I was sitting in the doctor’s office for a number of reasons. One, a mole being removed from my thigh to check for skin cancer. Two, an ear ache/infection. I told my doctor that I had tried echinacea, and it had worked the last time I had this issue. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “Erin, if that works, you should keep taking it.” Small amount of surprise, but pleased. It was at that time cheaper than meds…and still works better for me than most meds. There was also other talk about the upcoming issue of what we now call super bugs and people over using medicine. From that point on, I have always tried herbal and folk remedies first, much to the negative responses of my oddly curious friends and family members. However, 18 years later I have noticed that echinacea, along with a few other “key” herbs and supplements now sit in everyone’s cupboard for regular use… as well as neti pots, some organic food choices, etc. High five team! And everyone else who helps us, like you wellness mama, continue to educate ourselves. I couldn’t have done it without someone sharing their knowledge with me. It’s a group effort!
Echinacea can be dangerous to those with ragweed allergy, especially if they also have asthma. Echinacea and ragweed are related. So, even though I believe echinacea is beneficial to many, unfortunately I can’t try it.
I have read (of course I can’t find that info now!) that if you take echinacea for more than a week or two, unless you stop for awhile it looses it’s effectiveness… in other words you can’t just take it indefinitely but have to take it for awhile then stop then start again…wondering if you had heard that as well…?
I have read that too, but have also read from sources I trust that they haven’t found it to be true.
The Eclectic Physicians gave it for long periods of time and it proved to be very effective. So if I have the need, I’ll take it for longer periods and see for myself.
Carol, in my experience this goes for a lot of natural medicinal herbs, spices etc, any supplement. Should always have a break
I’ve use Echinacea for the past 18 years in capsule form, and only use it when I have the beginnings of a cold coming on … burning, watering eyes, scratchy throat, frequent sneezing.
Usually, the symptoms appear early in the evening. I take 4 capsules every 3 hours until bedtime. By morning the symptoms are dramatically reduced, if not gone. I continue with the echinaces, reducing the dose to 3 capsules every 4-5 hours, and then stop as all signs of a cold are gone.
I haven’t developed a full-blown cold in the past 8+ years, and only two slight ones in the 10 years prior as I didn’t begin taking the herb right away. I take thyroid meds as I no longer have a thyroid and have had no complications.
Over the years, I have recommended echinacea to quite a few people. Those who have tried it swear by it also.
Esperança-Hope Melo V
Thanks for the info! I had to laugh about your twentyish bf being equipped with natural medicines, reminds me of myself!
Will definitely look deeper into this natural remedy.
Thanks for being cautious with your family’s health!
Echinacea sounds wonderful. I’d never heard of it as a natural remedy before & I’m always looking for natural alternatives so this had been great.
Katie – forgot to mention in my previous post:
It seems that Echinacea’s cousins’ the Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and Yellow Coneflower (R. lanciata) have similar medicinal properties. I haven’t tried them but have always been attracted to the Rudbeckia – there may be a small space available for them next to the pond in my back yard………
Dear Katie – I love echinacea – have a big stand of beautiful purpuras in my herb garden.
The other day I came across this blog article by Patrick Jones, DVM – the “homegrown herbalist”.
“…there is another side to Echinacea…that has saved many of my patients from disfiguring wounds or death from rattlesnake and venomous spider bites. The same property also makes
Echinacea a wonderful choice for the repair of torn cartilages and ligaments or other joint injuries. That property is (the plant’s) ability to inhibit hyaluronidase and to actually stimulate hyaluronic acid production.”
Yes, he goes on to explain and then encourages adding a little echinacea to your formulas for chronic injuries, torn ligaments, sprains, tears, arthritis, snakes and spider bites.
He even gives out his formula on his blog.
And I use the whole plant – including those flower heads – there’s something about grinding up those substantial “seed heads” (probably not the correct term!LOL!) in my vitamix that says to me: “Wow, thats a soma spicy echinacea!!”