Echinacea is one of the most studied herbs and is often hailed for its beneficial actions on the immune system. Learn more about echinacea with this herbal monograph.
I still remember where I was when my high school volleyball coach asked me if I’d ever used echinacea for the sinus infections I was prone to at that time.
I truly didn’t know what she was talking about. She explained to me that it was an herb that many people found useful for colds, flu, and other common sicknesses. I believe that was my first introduction into the world of herbal medicine!
At first I relied on echinacea capsules from the large big box store in our small town whenever I’d start to get sick, then I started buying echinacea teas. Now with a little more herbal understanding, I’ve learned some of the more effective ways to put echinacea to use, and our home is never without it!
Three main varieties of echinacea are used in herbal medicine: Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea, and E. pallida. The angustifolia and purpurea varieties are most commonly available and have slightly different chemical compositions, though all are valuable.
Echinacea’s common name is purple coneflower, and this aptly describes the flower head of the plant. Soft, bright purple-pink petals surround a sharply seeded cone which forms in the center of the daisy-like flowers. As the flowers mature, the petals pull back from the center as the cone grows out with spikey seeds. These flowers grow up on tall, tough stems that also produce long leaves covered in short rough hairs. These striking plants are commonly grown in gardens for their appearance while their medicinal value goes unnoticed.
The entire plant can be used, including roots, stems, leaves, and flower heads.
Actions in the Body
- Echinacea is beneficial during disease because it is an antimicrobial, often useful with both bacterial and viral illnesses.
- Recent research suggests it has immunomodulating properties, preventing the immune system from over- or under-reacting to various irritants.
- It is an anti-inflammatory herb.
- It has vulnerary properties, meaning that it assists in wound-healing.
- Especially beneficial during respiratory illnesses, echinacea is an anti-catarrhal herb, helping the body climate mucus.
Echinacea is most often used as an infusion, decoction, or tincture, though it can also be a very beneficial herb to include in a healing salve.
The aerial parts of the plant are used in infusions. Dried pieces of leaves, stems, and flowers can be steeped in boiled water with 1-2 teaspoons herb to 1 cup water. After steeping for 10-15 minutes, the tea can be taken every few hours.
When the roots are to be used, they are typically prepared in a decoction. One to two teaspoons of dried root can be added to 1 cup of water in a small saucepan and gently brought to a boil, then simmered for 10-15 minutes before straining. This can be taken three times a day.
All parts of the plant can be used in tinctures and glycerine extracts. These are typically prepared with one part plant material to 5 parts menstruum (liquid solvent), usually grain alcohol such as vodka. When prepared with vodka at these ratios, it is a standard 1:5 tincture.
The dried herb can also be infused into a warm oil, then strained and thickened with beeswax to make an antimicrobial healing salve. Adding in herbs like calendula, chickweed, or plantain would also be beneficial.
Echinacea may cause reactions in individuals with allergies to the Asteraceae (daisy) family. Those with autoimmune disorders or taking immunosuppressant medications should also consult their health care professional about taking echinacea.
Do you use echinacea when you get sick?
Fritchey, Philip. Practical Herbalism. Whitman Publications, Warsaw, Indiana. 2004. (found here).
Hawkins, Jessie. Botanical Medicine in the Home. Vintage Remedies, Franklin, Tennessee. 2013. (found here).
Hoffman, David. Medicinal Herbalism. Healing Arts Press, Rochester, Vermont. 2003. (found here).