Thursday, February 16, 2012

Echinacea the Wonder Herb

Echinacea purpurea
You have learned how to collect Echinacea roots as well as how to process them into tincture. I thought you might also like some information on how it is used. To see blog on making Echinacea tincture go here.

Common Name: Echinacea
Latin Name: Echinacea spp. (purpurea, angustifolia and pallida are the most common species used by herbalists and N.D.'s)

Echinacea - Latin definition
The below definition comes from Stearn’s Botanical Latin-4th ed.
“Echinatus (adj., armed with numerous small rigid hairs or straight prickles or spines or spiny projections, from echinus, ‘hedgehog, sea-urchin’ hence ‘prickly husk of sweet chestnut’, echinulatus, with very small prickles, echinulate.”

: Asteraceae

Echinacea angustifolia and purpurea are the most commonly used species with Echinacea pallida probably third most used. Echinacea purpurea is used the most which largely has to do with it being easier to grow in many areas than angustifolia. I personally find pallida to be lacking in activity. It also tastes quite different. The root of pallida has an unusual flowery taste quite unlike other roots.  It does not work for me as well as the other two. I prefer angustifolia for long term storage of dry root. It stores better than purpurea. If making a tincture out of them, they are both fine. I tend to use purpurea fresh more than angustifolia as it grows best where I live and is quite active clinically. It stores fine for about 6 months, just looses quality quicker than the angustifolia after that. There are other  spp. which you can also use medicinally such as E.tennesseensis.

If using Echinacea angustifolia only organic should be used to protect the wild Echinacea angustifolia from being wildcrafted out of existence. 

Echinacea purpurea
Historic Use
Echinacea angustifolia - narrow leaved cone flower, was used by many of the native Americans in the Great Plains area of central United States. Locally, they used the plant topically as a poultice for venomous bites such as snake bites and over enlarged glands. It was also used topically for toothaches. They used it for a variety of septic infections.

They usually chewed the root and applied it as a poultice or made a tea    to   take internally.

It was introduced to physicians by Dr H.C.F. Meyer and Dr. John King in 1887 as an alterative and antiseptic. The tincture was used both internally and externally in cases of boils, ulcers of the throat and extremities, as well as for wasp/bee stings. Meyer claimed people recovered from rattlesnake bites within 2-12 hours by using the tincture both externally as a wash and ingesting it. In 1906 it started being used by homeopathics and main stream physicians. It was used for infected wounds, septicemia and bites and stings of various poisonous critters. In 1921, & 1922 Echinacea ranked first out of 239 plant remedies sold by the Lloyd Brothers. In a study done a few years ago, it was the 4th largest seller on the U.S. herbal market.

The eclectic physicians used Echinacea to help prevent infection and aid in healing after injuries and surgeries. It was also used in septic conditions (externally as well as internally) such as gangrene, lymphangitis, boils, carbuncles, feverish conditions, and abscesses. In the early 20th century it was used externally over lymph nodes much more than it is now.

Parts used 
Echinacea purpurea root
Root mostly, seeds and flowers also. Juice of the above ground E. purpurea has been used but most herbalists I know don't find it to be very useful. I have used the juice internally and do not find it to be as useful as the root tincture. It may be due to the fact that it has been a preserved juice. I thought perhaps fresh juice would work better. However, I have found the external fresh leafy parts to cause nausea in some people and simply not be very useful internally.  The leaves are helpful as a spit poultice for things like wasp stings.

Echinacea purpurea - root, seed and flowers - As far as I am concerned the best part to tincture is the root - extracts easier than seed, stronger than flower. All can be used though.

Root is slightly sweet, pungent, aromatic, tingles the tongue and causes a slight numbing sensation with most species. (pallida root tastes like a flower) The seed and flower will both tingle the tongue also. The seed tastes a bit cardboard like also. The flower is very prickly. They will all increase salivation when chewed. 

The tingling sensation is is due to the alkylamides (alkamides). If you don't notice tingling from eating a root or tasting a tincture, you may not have a real Echinacea root or tincture. If you have a tincture that is not causing tingling on your tongue, I would question what is really in that tincture. You will find polysaccharides in the glycerite and the teas, but since they do not extract alkamides very well, you will not get much tingling from a tea or glycreite. That is normal for them.

Echinacea purpurea spent seed head
Echinacea angustifolia roots: polysaccharides (Inulin and  fructose); phenylpropenoids (echinacoside, chicoric acid, cynarine and  caffaric acid); alkylamides ( complex of isobutylamide, the numbing taste);  alkaloid (tussilagine 0.006%) and oils (0.1%, palmitic and linolenic  acids).

E. pallida roots : phenylpropenoids (echinacoside and  chlorogenic acid); alkylamides (trace amounts); polyacetylenes; oils (0.2 -  2.0% ketoalkenynes).

E. purpurea root: polypropenoids (cichoric acid 0.6 -  2.1%); alkamides (complex of isobutylamides); alkaloid (tussilagine and  isotussilagine); polysaccharide (fructose based) and oils (0.03 - 0.2%,  caryphyllene, humulene, palmitic, linolenic acids and germacrene D.

E. purpurea areal : polypropenoids (cichoric acid );  alkylamides. ( complex of isobutylamides); flavonoids (rutoside, quercitin,  quercetin-7-glucoside and kaempferol-3-rutinoside and essential oils.

Extracting Mediums
It should be noted that the polysaccharides are not soluble in alcohol (Etoh), polypropenoid is soluble in medium strength Etoh and Alkylamides only in very  strong Etoh. The constituents desired in the final product will help  determine if the product should be a powder (capsule or tablet), tea, or  tincture. If you make a tea you will get polysaccharides but not much as far as alkylamides. If you make a tincture you will get alkylamides but very little polysaccharides if the alcohol is over 40%.

Constituent Information and Activity
An isobutylamide (type of alkylamide) called echinacein causes the tingling sensation and has a mild anesthetic effect. Other isobutylamide constituents have also been identified in both purpurea and angustifolia and have been shown to be antiinflammatory. However, the isolated isobutylamides were individually less potent than the whole extract. (This is common for plants to be more potent when used whole rather than broken into individual constituents.) Alcohol extracts of angustifolia, pallida and purpurea all showed enhanced phagocytic activity in mice in vivo when given orally. The increase phagocytic activity correlated with the isobutylamides in angustifolia and purpurea and with polyacetylenes in pallida.

The caffeic acid derivative echinacoside comprises about 1% of the dry weight of angustiolfia root and has a weak activity against staphylococcal and streptococcal bacteria.

The most significant effect of caffeyol conjugate components is their hyaluronidse inhibiting activity. Echinacoside is a caffeoyl conjugate of Echinacea with known anti-hyaluronidase properties. It is found in Echiancea angustifolia and pallida root. Cichoric acid and caftaric acid had the greatest antihyaluronidase activity when tested in research. All parts of dried Echinacea purpurea showed  cichoric acid as the major derivative and substantial amounts of caftaric acid.

Hyaluronidase is an enzyme that catalyzes the breakdown of hyaluronic acid. Hyaluronic acid is like an intercellular glue in our bodies. Hyaluronidase which is found in venom of some snakes and spiders  and is secreted by some bacteria can break down the intercellular glue and allow the venom or bacteria to move more freely through the tissues.

Echinacea’s purified polysaccharide, arabinogalactan, activates macrophages to cytotoxicity against tumor cells and microorganisms, as well as produces tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-1, interleukin-6, interferon-2 and slightly increases T-lymphocyte proliferation. It therefore enhances the immune system’s resistance to infections and stimulates wound healing. The root oil has inhibited leukemia cells in vitro and in vivo.

Echinacea purpurea
Teas contain polysaccharides (water soluble) which are thought to be immune-enhancing but it is not known if they are absorbed or digested. They may however effect the Peyer’s patches (gut lymph tissue). Alcohol precipitates polysaccharides making them less or unavailable.

Tendencies & Use
Echinacea has a cooling, drying, and stimulating effect on the body.

Dosage: Infusion: 1-2 teaspoon per cup of water; or 1:1.5 fresh + dry liquid extract: 10-120 drops 1-4 times per day. If using for an acute infection can use 120 drops as much as every 2 hours for first 24-48 hours.

Mental picture and specific indications
: Echinacea is indicated for exhaustive states with chilliness, offensive discharges, lymphatic congestion with swollen glands, mental confusion, dull mind, dizziness, tendency to skin eruptions and low grade continuous fevers, as well as high grade fevers.

Use: (a) Antimicrobial, (b) Anti-inflammatory, (c) Antiviral,  (d) Antibacterial, (e) Antifungal, (f) Slight stimulation of the adrenal cortex, (g) Stimulates leukocytes,  (h) Inhibits hyaluronidase, (i) Sialagogue, (j) Enhances phagocytosis. 

Note: Clinical information for E. angustifolia and E. purpurea species is basically interchangeable in most circumstances. 

In vitro and in vivo studies show that E. purpurea stimulates the immune system in a non-specific way by activating macrophages, enhancing phagocytes and stimulating the secretion of TNF and interleukins 1 and 6.

 Echinacea protects the gut from harmful micro-organisms due to its enhancement of phagocytosis. It also decreases inflammatory allergic reactions in mild food allergies and stimulates gastric healing. The constituent, echinacin, has been shown to be useful in treatment of tonsillitis in pediatric practices.  Due to its specificity for infectious conditions, it is used for colds, influenza, wounds, infections, allergies, bacterial and viral disease, swollen glands and gum disease. 

This plant can be used internally and externally at the same time for many therapies. Ear infections can be treated internally while using the tincture externally in the ear. The tincture works wonders externally when mixed with clay and used as a poultice on  brown recluse spider bites while also being used internally in high doses.

Echinacea is not associated with acute or chronic toxicity. Although there have been reports that it is contraindicated in auto-immune diseases. Many practitioners have used it with patients who have auto-immune diseases without noticing side effects. Lupus is one auto-immune disease that practitioners have noticed can be exacerbated by use of Echinacea. Due to arabinogalactan’s ability to increase production of TNF-alpha, there is concern about AIDS patients taking echinacea.  Many clinicians give whole plant liquid extracts that contain little or no arabinogalactan to AIDS patients without any problems. 

Additionally, it has been thought by some herbalists that Echinacea should only be used short term because its effects stop after a period of 1-3 weeks. However there are many individuals who have used this herb long term with successful results. An 8-week double-blind study in 1989 showed Echinacea was useful in prevention of respiratory infections. Another study using oral Echinacea for 10 weeks showed prevention of recurrent bouts of vaginal candidiasis. 
Echinacea purpurea
While it is infrequently done, when used parenterally, Echinacea can cause nausea, vomiting and fever reactions. This is usually dose-dependent. In persons with diabetes, hypersensitivity reactions have occurred; these include rash, itching, occasional swelling of the face, breathing difficulty, dizziness and a drop in blood pressure.

 Be aware that the immune stimulating properties of Echinacea may interact with immunosuppression drugs like Cyclosporin or other anti-rejection drugs.

Hyaluronidase is one of three enzymes  attached to the acrosomal membrane located on the head of the male  spermatozoon. This enzyme clears a path for the sperm to  fertilize the egg. Men taking large amount of  echinacea might experience some infertility, though this has not been studied.

There has been some research with Echinacea purpurea and its effect on various medications. Caution should be used when Echinacea is co-administered with drugs dependent on CYP3A or CY1A2 for their elimination. However more research is needed.

Growing Echinacea purpurea
A perennial. Seeds will self sow or can be collected in the fall. Be sure to get them before the birds do. They birds love the seed and it will disappear if you don’t watch carefully. Stratification is usually helpful although not always necessary with purpurea.  Stratification is necessary for angustifolia and pallida. They must both be stratified for 30 days. This can be done with a freezer bag, some slightly moist sandy soil and seeds. The seeds and soil are placed in the bag and the bag is put in the freezer for 30 days to simulate winter time. Take them out and they can now be planted into trays or directly into the garden.
Flower and seed available 2nd year (few 1st year), root available 3rd year or 2nd if good soil. Grows to 2’ first year, 4’ second year. Yields about 1200# per acre

Negative Research from a few years ago
Not good research. Lack of verification of correct plant material was a problem in one article I read. You should never conduct research with a plant without verifying its identity first.  Lack of use of correct part of the plant - used leaf juice in research. I find the leaf juice to have been fairly useless internally personally as do many of my colleagues.  There was also the problem of not giving a high enough dose of the herb. There is a tremendous amount of research that has been amassed over the years to support Echinaceas efficacy. I am ignoring this poorly devised research.

It seems I have not taken any photos of the Echinacea angustifolia or pallida. I still have the angustifolia in my garden and will try to remember to take a photo of it for you this summer.

Past Blogs about Echinacea
How to make tincture
Digging up Echinacea
Using Echinacea Long Term


  1. Absolutely fantastic article! My partner is suffering from persistent mastitis (i don't think it's developed too far yet) and she asked if i could make an echinacea tea for her. just so happens we had some echinacea purpurea in the garden.

    I was a bit worried that the purpurea wasn't as effective as the angustifolia, but it sounds like it should be fine after reading your blog entry.

    Thank you!

  2. The extract of Echinacea is also known as an effective means to help reduce cold symptoms. Furthermore, Echinacea tea is a safe and natural agent against gingivitis.

    - Katelin Mccaig

  3. I was wanted to know about Echinacea. This blog helped me a lot to understand it very well and the content is really easy to understand. Thank you for sharing, it is really helpful. New chapter cinnamon force

  4. If you all enjoyed Dr. Sharol Tilgner's post, pick up her book Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth. Fantastic book for any herbalist.

  5. If you all enjoyed Dr. Sharol Tilgner's post, pick up her book Herbal Medicine From the Heart of the Earth. Fantastic book for any herbalist.