Is Echinacea Good for Colds?
When you’re down with a cold or the flu, it can be a miserable time. Since both conditions are caused by viruses, there really isn’t much conventional treatment has to offer other than masking the symptoms with medications, which may come with potential side effects. However, other than staying home to rest, drinking soup and keeping your fluids up, there are natural treatments that could be of benefit.
Echinacea is one of those treatments; also known as the purple cone flower, it is part of the daisy family. It was historically used by the Native Americans to treat wounds, tonsillitis, headaches, toothaches and colds, and it has been adopted by Europeans and North Americans as one of the premier go-to treatments for the common cold and the flu. Research on this popular plant is ongoing and current studies have shown that for best results, it should be taken right at the initial onset of a cold or flu, and treatment should continue for up to two weeks.
If you’re looking for a natural remedy to help you get through cold and flu season, Echinacea can stimulate your immune system to help you fight off the symptoms and get you back on your feet faster.
A Little Echinacea History
There are nine different species of Echinacea. However, the species most popular amongst the Natives were angustifolia, pallida and purpurea — it is these species that are still used as herbal medicine today. In the late nineteenth century, the Native Americans introduced the Echinacea species to the European settlers. The Europeans took what they thought was angustifolia back to Europe, but it turned out to be purpurea. Therefore, most research has been performed by German scientists, on the purpurea species.
Historical to Modern Use
The Native Americans used different parts and species of the plant to treat certain ailments and combined the various parts of the plant for other specific therapeutic purposes. For example, the leaves and the roots of the angustifolia species together were used to treat sore gums and throat. The roots of the pallida species were chewed raw for the treatment of colds, and a tincture of the purpurea root was used to treat coughs associated with the common cold and flu.
What Does Echinacea Do?
Echinacea contains many therapeutic ingredients; one class of substance are the phenolic compounds. Phenols are antioxidant in nature which protect the cells of the plant and humans, once ingested, from UV radiation and infection. Alkamides are another constituent thought to have an activating effect on the immune system. In lab and human studies, Echinacea has demonstrated an increase in white blood cell count and a reduced duration and severity of cold and flu symptoms by 10% to 30%. This could mean up to two days less suffering if a typical cold can last for a full week.
When Should Echinacea be Taken?
Timing is everything. While some people take Echinacea daily during cold and flu season to prevent illness, research has shown that it may work best when taken as soon as you start to experience cold and flu symptoms. Therefore, the best time to take it is when that runny nose, fever, headache and sore throat hits you.
What Form of Echinacea is Best to Take?
There are many acceptable forms of Echinacea in the market including tisane (tea), capsule and tincture. Look for a standardized extract when using tablets and capsules. As most research has been done on the root of Echinacea angustifolia and purpurea, it would be best to seek products that contain these species. A liquid tincture or herbal tisane is easy to ingest and helpful as a gargle when you have a sore throat and for children or adults who have difficulty swallowing pills. On the other hand, tablets and capsules don’t have a strong taste and are easy to carry around with you.
Echinacea is a useful herb to take during the cold and flu season, especially at the early onset of infection. Keep in mind that if you have an underlying chronic illness, an autoimmune condition or if you are pregnant or nursing check with your health care provider to determine if it is appropriate for you. Adverse effects from taking Echinacea are rare, However, if you experience side effects such as a rash, itchiness or nausea, discontinue use.
~Dr. Olivia Rose N.D.
This article is for information purposes only and should not be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent diseases. Please consult with your healthcare provider before starting or making any changes to your nutrition, supplementation or exercise regimen.