ECHINACEA (Echinacea spp.)

Family: Asteraceae

Parts commonly used: Root, seed, and juice of the whole plant, including flowers.

Properties/energetics: Alterative, lymphatic, anti-inflammatory, immune stimulant, weak antimicrobial, sialogogue (stimulates salivation)/Cool; bitter, spicy.

Systems predominantly affected: Immune, lymphatic, respiratory, reproductive.

Uses: Echinacea is not strongly antimicrobial per se; rather, it stimulates the body to fight infection more efficiently by strengthening the ground substance (materials that exist between the cells) of connective tissue, stabilizing hyaluronic acid (a ground-substance component) and, concurrently, inhibiting the activity of hyaluronidase (an enzyme system responsible for regulating the integrity of hyaluronic acid). Simply stated, hyaluronidase breaks down hyaluronic acid stability and allows for the easier travel of microbes through tissues. Increased hyaluronic acid stability decreases the spread of microorganisms. Many bacteria counter by secreting hyaluronidase in order to clear the way for their progress through the body. Echinacea’s ability to inactivate hyaluronidase is one of its major benefits in preventing opportunistic microbial incursion and the concomitant spread of infection. Besides the effect on stabilizing hyaluronic acid, Echinacea also stimulates the development of new connective tissue. The combination of these two actions is useful in a variety of acute and chronic tissue injuries. In addition to the above affects on the immune system, Echinacea stimulates phagocytic activity (engulfing and ingesting bacteria and foreign particles) by immune cells. This action provides a faster, more efficient response to fighting infection agents. Along with this activity, Echinacea also increases the level of properdin, a protein that helps immune cells inactivate viruses and bacteria in the blood. And, complementary to all this, Echinacea mimics interferon, a protein that increases cellular resistance to viruses, an action well recognized in Echinacea. As a result, Echinacea is very useful for treating blood poisoning, boils, carbuncles and abscesses, acute bacterial and viral infections, and venomous bites of all sorts, as well as allergic reactions to Poison Oak and Poison Ivy. It’s an excellent remedy for treating upper respiratory infections such as tonsillitis, bronchitis, and laryngitis.

Combinations: Combines well with many plants: Saw Palmetto and Nettle root for treating prostate infection, chronic inflammation, or BPH; Saw Palmetto (and used in suppository form) for treating an inflamed and enlarged prostate; Burdock root for treating boils and abscesses; Myrrh resin, Horseradish, Garlic, and Goldenseal for tonsillitis and other lymphatic conditions; Yarrow and Bearberry to treat bladder infection; and Garlic and Usnea as a strong antimicrobial.

Affects on specific body types: As an immune stimulant, Echinacea can be useful for just about anyone, although it is best combined with more constitutionally specific (tonic) herbs such as Astragalus, Licorice, or Siberian Ginseng for Seer types, Boneset for Warrior types, and Myrrh or Bayberry for Monarch types. With respect to tissue strengthening, Echinacea can be useful for anyone experiencing inflammation of any sort, but constitutionally it is probably best suited to Seer types due to their tendency toward tissue weakness and Warrior-dominant individuals due to their strong tendency toward inflammation.

Precautions: Can be taken and in most cases is probably best taken in large amounts; however, it can cause stomach irritation in small children. It will make the mouth tingle and actively salivate. Echinacea treats acute inflammations quite effectively, but when used preventively for more than about ten days, its effectiveness begins to wane.

Preparations/dosage: For acute conditions, take every hour or two. Dried root must be recently dried. The actions of the dried root do not preserve well. Use the fresh root or a tincture of fresh root whenever possible. Decoction: 1 cup as a dose. You may want to blend this with Licorice or Fennel for palatability. Tincture: 1 teaspoon to 1/2 ounce as a dose, especially at first signs of a cold or before times when one predictably gets sick. Take 1/2 to 1 ounce a day at first signs of blood poisoning.

By James Green, Herbalist, copyright 2008

For more information please refer to James Green’s book, The Male Herbal, 2nd Edition