Since becoming passionate about health and wellness, I’ve experimented with all sorts of herbal supplements over the years. Some have proved beneficial while others have done nothing for me. When it comes to catching a cold or suffering from minor aches and pains, one herb that rarely lets me down is echinacea. Not only can this pretty purple coneflower help cure a common cold, but it can even improve skin issues and act as an anti-inflammatory. I’m here to tell you about five amazing benefits of echinacea. But first of all…
What is Echinacea?
Echinacea is a plant indigenous to North America which belongs to the daisy family. It was commonly used in the traditional medicine of a number of Native American tribes to treat different kinds of ailments, including snakebite. In total, there are nine different species of echinacea, but the three varieties commonly used as medicine are “echinacea purpurea,” “echinacea angustifolia” and “echinacea pallida.”
Nowadays, echinacea supplements are widely available over the counter at drug stores throughout North America and around the world. Despite its wide availability and amazing health benefits, many remain skeptical of this cheap and natural herbal remedy, often citing a lack of “scientific proof.” Those with actual experience using the herb, on the other hand, will often tell you how helpful it can be for a wide variety of health issues.
Echinacea is not a miracle drug, of course, and doesn’t work for everyone all of the time. But considering the significant boost it gives the body’s immune system, echinacea is definitely something you should consider keeping in your cabinet at home.
5 Amazing Echinacea Benefits
1. Echinacea Helps Prevent and Fight Off Colds
During a study conducted by the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, “the researchers found that echinacea decreased the odds [of catching a cold] by 58 per cent. . .” (1) Furthermore, echinacea is especially effective when used in combination with vitamin C, as the odds were then reduced by 86 percent.
Personally, for the past few years I’ve been using pretty much nothing except echinacea for colds. Whenever I start to sense that a cold may be oncoming, a few echinacea capsules are the first thing I reach for. A decent dose of the supplement combined with a good night’s rest is often enough to bring me back to normal the next day.
2. Echinacea Acts as an Anti-inflammatory
Taking echinacea has been shown to reduce a wide variety of symptoms related to inflammation. It was traditionally used by Native Americans to treat wounds. As I wrote about in a previous book, many of the serious conditions plaguing modern society can be attributed to inflammation. Some major health issues related to inflammation include:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- clogged arteries
- autoimmune diseases
While the best preventative measure against inflammation is a consistent healthy and nutritious diet, taking echinacea also has a number of anti-inflammatory benefits. According to WebMD, “Echinacea seems to activate chemicals in the body that decrease inflammation.” (2)
3. Echinacea Helps with Skin Conditions
More and more people are discovering the power of echinacea when it comes to getting rid of acne. In short, acne and pimples are typically caused when pores get clogged with dead skin cells and bacteria. In contrast to prescription medications which target bacteria – both the good kind and the bad kind – echinacea can help clean the blood without causing your body any additional harm. Through a process known as phagocytosis, echinacea helps clean out the nasty debris and dead cell tissues safely and naturally.
As many skin conditions are also rooted in inflammation, this benefit is closely linked with the point above. Other inflammation-related skin conditions such as sunburn can also be treated with echinacea.
4. Echinacea Helps Fight Infections and STD’s
Echinacea’s promotion of phagocytosis also comes in handy when fighting off a variety of infections. The blood-purifying activities of echinacea have been shown to be effective when treating candida infections and strep throat. It was also commonly used by Native Americans to treat eye infections. (3)
Furthermore, “When taken along with an antifungal cream, oral echinacea may help prevent recurrent vaginal yeast infections.” (4) There is still some debate over the effectiveness of echinacea when it comes to alleviating herpes symptoms, however. Though conclusive clinical studies are lacking, many have reported that echinacea has helped them deal with recurring outbreaks. This is likely in part due to echinacea’s strengthening of the body’s white blood cells.
5. Echinacea Helps You Recover From Injury
Echinacea also helps repair what’s called ‘hyaluronic acid,’ an acid which keeps the cells of the body together. The herb not only repairs existing hyaluronic acid but also stimulates its production. It’s no wonder why echinacea was traditionally used to treat snake bites, as harmful snake venom acts to break down tissue in the body. The same process which helps protect the body against snake and spider venom is also effective at repairing torn joints and ligaments resulting from common injury. (5)
This is good news for runners and athletes. Next time you’re experiencing some chronic pain after a hard run, you may want to consider giving echinacea a try.
Reaping the Benefits of Echinacea: Dosage and Frequency
The best dosage for echinacea depends on what you’re taking it for. From my experience, I’ve found that taking larger doses (several 400mg capsules) the first day or two that I’m experiencing cold-like symptoms works best. For other ailments such as chronic pain, injuries or inflammation, it’s recommended to take lower dosages daily over a longer period of time.
Other Things to Consider
Some proponents of the herb recommend drinking echinacea tea, while others prefer echinacea tincture. Personally, I’ve experienced positive benefits from all three forms. I take echinacea in capsule form most often simply because I find them easiest to store and take with me when necessary.
Understand that the three main varieties of echinacea (angustifolia, pallida and purpurea) work slightly differently. Purpurea, for example, is best known as a general immune system booster while echinacea angustifolia is the best at treating snakebites. Echinacea pallida is the variety better at stimulating white blood cell production. (6)
Unfortunately, when buying over the counter echinacea supplements, it may not always be clear which variety of echinacea you’re getting. Furthermore, different parts of the plant can be used for different results.
To save confusion at the store, you may want to buy the exact variety you need online. For most of the echinacea benefits listed above, most people will probably want to go for the purpurea variety. Some of the more popular echinacea purpurea capsules are the ones made by Pure Naturals or by Nature’s Way. Hawaii Pharm also makes a popular purpurea tincture product.
To be sure exactly what you’re getting, you may even want to consider growing some echinacea of your own.
Potential Side Effects of Echinacea
Echinacea is completely safe for most people but it’s very important to do the proper research and consult with your doctor or naturopath if you have a pre-existing condition. Echinacea could potentially cause harmful side effects for people who suffer from certain allergic reactions. Additionally, prolonged echinacea usage over the course of a few months could potentially result in liver damage. (7)
Though the major pharmaceutical companies may disagree, echinacea is an extremely beneficial and versatile plant.
Common cold and cough medicines are known to contain a number of harmful chemicals and typically only mask cold symptoms without doing anything to actually cure your cold. Next time you’re feeling under the weather, why not try giving your immune system a boost naturally with some echinacea?