One of the most exciting therapeutic herbs available today is echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea) a unique herb related to the Asteraceae (sunflower) plant family. Echinacea has been widely used by Native Americans, particularly the Plains Indians, for hundreds of years as an antiseptic, an analgesic (pain killer) and for the treatment of snakebites. Echinacea is also used extensively by herbalists and alternative health care providers to boost the immune system, help speed wound healing, reduce inflammations, treat colds and flu, and fight infections.
A growing collection of scientific evidence supports echinaceas important contribution to stimulating the immune system. Researchers have found that echinaceas immune-stimulating properties are due to a rich host of polysaccharides and phytosterols unique to this plant. Most American use of this herb has been with fresh Echinacea angustifolia, while European research has been conducted with the fresh Echinacea purpurea.
Researchers have identified a number of important active ingredients, including glycosides (especially echinacoside), eichloric acid, chlorogenic acid, polysaccharides (echinacin B, inulin, arabinogalactans, xyloglucans), isobutylamines (echinacein), alkylamides, phytosterols, (Z)-1, 8-pentadecadiene, sesquiterpene esters (in E. purpurea) and many other valuable compounds.
Scientists have found that Echinacea helps to activate macrophages, key immune system elements that are directly involved in the destruction of bacteria, viruses, other infectious agents and cancer cells. Macrophages produce much of their lethal effect by generating free oxygen radicals as well as producing a key protein called interleukin-l. A report in the December 1984 issue of Infection and Immunity demonstrated that a polysaccharide fraction derived from Echinacea purpurea significantly increased the killing effect of macrophages on tumor cells.
The polysaccharides also increased the production of free oxygen radicals and interleukin-1. The echinacea polysaccharide had no effect on T-lymphocytes (involved in cellular immunity) and only a modest effect on B-lymphocytes (involved in humoral immunity-making antibodies). Another report indicated that echinacea enhances natural killer cell activity, another important component in the immune system.
Echinacea is recommended for use periodically for one or two weeks at a time, rather than continuously, because the body seems to become accustomed to it and it loses effectiveness. This effectiveness is restored in a week or two.
If you are pregnant or nursing, consult your health care provider before using this product. If you have kidney disease, restrict usage to ten days to avoid a possible imbalance in excreted minerals.