Compilation by Armando Gonzalez Stuart, PhD.
Other Common Name:
Purple coneflower, Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia
Parts of the plant used:
Depending on the species used, the roots, leaves or flowers. Although the 3 plant species mentioned before belong to the same botanical genus, they do not all have exactly the same curative properties or contain the same active principles.
How is it used?
Various Echinacea species may be used as tea, capsules, tablets, fluid extracts, tinctures or injections.
What is it used for?
Echinacea has been used by various Native American tribes to treat minor wounds, inflammations, skin infections, as well as against insect stings and snakebite. Some of the active principles contained in the medicinal species of Echinacea have the ability to promote immuno-modulatory activity, that is, enhance the body’s defense system. For this reason, it is thought that this plant may be of use to prevent or combat various types of infections, especially those of viral origin. Because of this, Echinacea preparations are being tested against the HIV virus, which causes AIDS, but further research is necessary to prove its effectiveness in HIV patients. In the treatment of herpes infections, for example, Echinacea preparations did not show any significant results, as compared to placebo. Currently, various Echinacea preparations are recommended to combat mild to moderate upper respiratory tract infections, including the common cold. Research done mostly in Europe indicates that Echinacea preparations may be of value in reducing both the severity and the duration of colds, but some scientists believe that a number of the trials were flawed in their methodology and therefore no definite conclusions as to the plant’s efficacy can be made. Various Echinacea products are also touted as a preventive therapy for colds, but no clinical trials support this assumption conclusively.
Safety / Precautions
- Although toxicological information about Echinacea based products is scarce, the plant is considered to be safe when taken internally.
- Preliminary testing undertaken in pregnant women did not reveal any birth defects in the children born to mothers who used this plant during various stages of gestation. Nevertheless, since only one clinical trial evaluating Echinacea during pregnancy has been conducted, taking Echinacea products during the first trimester of pregnancy should be done only under professional supervision and excessive use should be avoided.
- Patients allergic to ragweed or other members of the Composite or Daisy family, such as Marigold, Arnica or Chamomile, may show cross sensitization (allergies) to Echinacea products.
- Injectable preparations were available in Europe, but are now banned in Germany and other countries due to the potential risk of anaphylactic shock or adverse drug reactions in sensitive individuals.
- It has been suggested that Echinacea preparations could be toxic to the liver, but no clinical evidence exists to support this.
- The German Commission E monograph on Echinacea has contraindicated its use in patients suffering from HIV infection or autoimmune diseases such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, although some researchers believe that this statement is either theoretical or poorly substantiated. More clinical research on human subjects is needed before any conclusions can be drawn.
- Although the Commission E monograph on Echinacea mentions that continuous treatment with Echinacea products should not exceed 8 weeks. This statement is not related to potential toxicity, but rather to the possibility that the plant’s effectiveness may wane with time, rendering it less effective.
- The possible herb-drug interactions involving Echinacea are for the most part unknown, although patients with HIV should consult their physician prior to taking any Echinacea product, as this may interfere with conventional antiviral therapy.
- Echinacea preparations may theoretically reduce the efficacy of certain medications, such as cyclosporine, tacrolimus and corticosteroids, for example.
Before you decide to take any medicinal herb or herbal supplement, be sure to consult with your health care professional first. Avoid self-medication and self-diagnosis: Always be on the safe side!