It comes as a big surprise to many that Echinacea was originally used primarily as a wound healing agent, and, is still one of the best remedies around when it comes to healing wounds. For a long time, antibiotics rendered wound healing no big deal. However, in the age of Antibiotic resistant bacteria, getting wounds to heal is once again a big deal, and, we need to explore new alternatives when it comes to wound healing.
I think Echinacea is the BEST product to keep in the first aid kit. Small cuts, big cuts, you name it, Echinacea can be used to get the wounds to heal, and heal fast. Everybody needs to know about this one, so read on. Here you will find a introductory article to using Echinacea for wound healing and a professional level article.
PS: In one of my stranger former lives I ran a first aid company, and, we introduced all kinds of Echinacea first aid products. They were incredibly effective! So, on this topic, I speak from vast experience.
The First Aid Miracle : Echinacea angustifolia
Today, when people think of Echinacea, they think of Flu prevention. They pull Echinacea tablets from the medicine chest in desperate attempts to prevent coughs and colds from taking hold. In fact, millions now insist Echinacea keeps them flu free year-after-year. It is so popular even drug stores carry it!
What most Echinacea fans do not know is that a 100 years ago it was primarily used as a wound healing agent. It ruled supreme in the world of first aid and was a standard treatment for cuts, bites, and burns. Doctors only abandoned it as a wound healer when antibiotics came into existence. Ironically, as we approach the year 2000 antibiotics are failing and Echinacea is being dusted off and put back into the first aid box.
Paradise Lost: Topical Antibiotics Begin to Fail
For the last 40 years, people have used topical antibiotics to prevent wound infection. Millions of pounds of antibiotic cream have been spread over thousands of miles of injured skin. Untold skin infections have been prevented.
Unfortunately, when antibiotics are over used, bacteria become resistant to them. Lots of studies now indicate that the bacteria known to cause skin infections are unaffected by our common antibiotics. In fact, some doctors say that because of topical antibiotic abuse they are running out of antibiotics that work in common skin infections like acne and also in more serious skin infections. The message? We need to slow our use of topical antibiotics and find a few alternatives for our first aid program.
Look on the Bright Side
Fortunately, the world of herbal medicine is loaded with plants that can keep wounds from becoming infected. For thousands of years the Native Americans used Echinacea to prevent infection in arrow wounds, venomous bites, and burns. Colonial doctors found that it could be used to prevent gangrene in barnyard wounds. Looking into alternatives such as these may even result in us finding superior wound healing agents!
Looking Backwards Correctly
When we dip into the past to find herbal solutions for today’s problems, we need to be precise in our retrieval dipping. Often contemporary people are sloppy about bringing information from the past into the present and this is unfortunate. Experience and knowledge about herbal remedies was built up over generations – people learnt through trial and error. When we fail to follow their directions on the use of these medicinal plants we do not take advantage of their acquired knowledge. We toss it out the window. When we review Echinacea’s past as a wound healing agent, we need to review it carefully!
Not Any Echinacea Will Do!
When we discuss ‘Echinacea’ as a wound healing agent or for any other purpose, we need to be specific There are eight Echinacea species and each is different. An orange is not a lemon and, in much the same way, Echinacea angustifolia is not Echinacea purpurea. When it comes to wound healing, the species to be used is Echinacea angustifolia. We know this from the historical record.
- The limited records we have of the Native American use of the Echinacea species show they preferred Echinacea angustifolia for wound healing(2-5).
- The Physicians who pioneered Echinacea use and studied it the most, the Eclectics, stated very clearly that Echinacea angustifolia was the superior wound healer and that all other species were universally disappointing (1).
When we are looking for new wound healing agents, let’s not go backwards. Let’s take the knowledge of those that came before and go forward! Echinacea angustifolia is the wound healing agent! What else can we learn from those that came before?
Native American Use of Echinacea Angustifolia
Towards the tail end of the last century The Bureau of American Ethnology started cataloguing the Native American knowledge of plants. As a result of this field research, we know the following about the Native American use of Echinacea angustifolia:
- It was used to prevent infection in venomous bites (snake, mosquito, wasp, tarantula, scorpion, etc)(2-5).
- It was used as a pain killer and healing agent for burns (2-5).
- It was used to reduce pain and prevent infection in recent wounds and to clean out wounds that had become infected (2-5).
The Eclectic Physicians Recommendation
The Eclectic doctors encountered Echinacea angustifolia when they made their way East on the wagon trains travelling from New York to the Ohio territories. The Ohio pioneers, having learned of its uses from the Native Americans, were quick to tell the arriving East coast doctors all about it. These doctors saw the power of Echinacea angustifolia and used it to prevent infection anytime the skin was broken or damaged. Life in the territories was physical and resulted in constant bites, scratches, burns, and cuts. The Eclectic physicians needed something that could prevent gangrene and they found it in Echinacea angustifolia.
The Eclectic physicians started using Echinacea angustifolia in 1854 and continued until their institute closed in 1930. Over the course of those years they learned a lot. They found that when it was applied externally and taken internally, wounds did not become infected and this included serious wounds.
Last century most patients unfortunate enough to have surgery died of infected surgical wounds. The Eclectics found that when Echinacea angustifolia was used surgical patients lived! Even the Eclectics were shocked (and delighted) with this development.
Oddly enough, almost 100 years later, surgery is once again becoming more risky. Today, hospitals have become breeding grounds for antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria. The very place you are most likely to have surgery is the place you are most likely to encounter a bacteria which will not respond to antibiotics.
The fact the Eclectics found Echinacea worked in surgical wounds tells us it will probably keep a domestic scratch free of infection. But what of the contemporary researchers, have they been able to validate these historic uses?
Echinacea angustifolia 2000
Contemporary research has validated the Native American and Eclectic use of Echinacea angustifolia as a wound healing agent. The folks in the laboratories have pulled the herb apart and discovered it works in two distinct ways. Firstly, it seems to prevent wounds from becoming infected and secondly it speeds up the wound healing process. Let’s look at these two activities separately.
1. Prevention of Bacterial Infection
Imagine a prizefighter punching away at his opponent. Boom, bang, boom, bang. Lots of punches in rapid succession begin wear the opponent out. Eventually one well placed punch knocks the opponent out for the count. Echinacea angustifolia works the same way on bacteria which is trying to cause an infection in a wound. It hammers and hammers bacteria until they look like road kill. Here are a few examples of the bacterial abuse dolled out by Echinacea angustifolia.
Echinacea angustifolia contains compounds which directly attack bacteria (13-16). Theorists suggest these compounds weaken the bacterial cell wall and with their cell wall battered and tattered, they are more vulnerable to immune cell attack.
Echinacea angustifolia stimulates the production of the white bloods cells responsible for killing bacteria. It makes more immune cells available to pummel bacteria (11,12). It also stimulates the killing ability of these newly created white blood cells to behave in a more vicious manner! (11-12). The end consequence being a herd of vicious immune cells riding the bacteria hard.
Bacteria use a compound called hyaluronidase to melt their way into the body. You’ve heard of digging your way to China? Well, bacteria use hyaluronidase to dig their way into you. It is their chemical ‘shovel’. Echinacea angustifolia contains compounds which inhibit or lock up hyaluronidase. It takes their shovel away from them! Once their shovel is gone, they are stopped dead in their tracks.
2. Faster Wound Healing
More than just preventing bacterial infection, Echinacea angustifolia stimulates the healing process itself, reduces inflammation, and decreases pain. As topical antibiotics merely prevent bacterial infection, you can see why some considered Echinacea angustifolia to be a superior wound healing agent. You get several activities for the price of one! Let’s have a closer look at these fringe benefits.
Seal Me Up Scotty !
The immune cells responsible for killing bacteria are also responsible for initiating the healing or sealing up process. Using Echinacea angustifolia wounds take less time to heal (13-19).
I’m Swelling and I Can’t Get Up !
First aid situations often involve swelling or inflammation. Insect bites and traumatic injuries both have a tendency to swell. Echinacea angustifolia has been shown to be as effective as cortisone in inflammation reduction (15-19).
Someone End My Suffering!
The Native Americans and Eclectics said that Echinacea angustifolia was an incredible pain killer. Research has shown that it contains compounds called alkylamides which block the transmission of pain. Suffer no more! (10-20)
For all these reasons, Echinacea angustifolia is more than just an alternative to topical antibiotics, it may actually be a superior drug. It is an immune stimulant, antibacterial agent, anti-inflammatory agent, pain killer, and healing stimulant all wrapped up into one. Yes, it all sounds good, but, does it work! Here are a few case histories from my clinical practice which add a level of reality to this discussion.
Case Notes from My Medical Practice
Seven Year Old Savagely Attacked by Bees
A seven year old boy accidentally stepped over a yellow jacket’s nest. The bees were not happy and stung him repeatedly on his arms and legs. The stings were bathed in Echinacea by way of compresses. The expected swelling and pain did not occur, and, the child was back at play within three hours of the attack. Previously this particular child had displayed great swelling around insect bites.
Coffee Maker Burned
A 55 year old women was making coffee with a French cafetiere. When she pushed the plunger down, the glass coffee maker exploded bathing her left arm, from shoulder to wrist, with
boiling water and coffee grounds. The burn was almost instantly bathed with Echinacea and was compressed with Echinacea for the next day. The women was able to sleep that night without the aid of pain killers and the burn did not blister as was expected.
Absent Minded Professor Tries to Remove Thumb the Hard Way
A professor inclined to spend his time thinking and not paying attention grabbed a public bathroom doorknob. The doorknob was broken and the professor received a cut on the thumb. The wound was significant and required butterfly bandaging. Echinacea angutifolia tincture was sprayed onto the wound several times a day. The wound did not become infected, healed amazingly quickly, and resulted in little scarring.
Kitchen Worker Keeps on Working
A 45 year old Chef complained of the constant cuts and burns received while on the job. Steam burns received working over boiling pots made work a misery. Cleaning vegetables and meat exposed these wounds to lots of bacteria was causing lots of infections. The chef kept a sprits bottle of Echinacea angustifolia in the kitchen. By spraying wounds as soon as they occurred, and while healing, infections have been eliminated. Most importantly, he has found the spray especially good at blocking the pain of burns.
Mosquitoes Prefer Her Blood
A 50 year old woman found that mosquitoes preferred her blood over that of anyone she was with. After the fact, the bites swelled to untold proportions, had a tendency to become infected, and left unsightly scars. She spritzed the bites with Echinacea angustifolia and was able to skip the usual course of affairs! She was still bitten, but, the bites were not a problem anymore.
Parting Words /Closing Wounds
The development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria tell us we need to reduce our use of topical antibiotics. We need to reserve them for emergency situations. As they say, if you keep doing what you are doing, you will keep getting what you are getting. Right now we are running out of topical antibiotics that work and are developing flocks of antibiotic resistant super bugs.
Echinacea angustifolia is one of several herbal remedies which offer us an alternative to ‘contemporary’ medicines.
Echinacea angustifolia and Wound Management
This article reviews the Native American and Eclectic uses of Echinacea angustifolia as a wound healing agent for a wide range of maladies, including gangrenous wounds, infected insect bites, bed sores, and ulcers. Historical uses of this drug to treat rabies, tetanus, impetigo, and erysipelas are also discussed, as well as contemporary research data to support Echinacea angustifolia’s powerful immune stimulating and anti-inflammatory properties. Although this drug appears to have been overlooked by modern phytotherapists, there appears to be a significant volume of data to support its reintroduction into widespread use as a wound healing agent.
When one examines the historical use of Echinacea angustifolia, both amongst the Native Americans and the Eclectic physicians, one finds it hailed as the preferred wound healing agent. Initially the Native Americans applied the agent in the form of a poultice to fresh wounds, burns, venomous bites, and infected wounds. Later, the Eclectics used tinctures of Echinacea angustifolia topically and internally to prevent infection and to speed the healing of wounds. Prior to the age of antibiotics, Echinacea angustifolia was deemed a reliable and effective wound-healing agent.
Indeed, in the days before antibiotics existed, the Eclectics used Echinacea angustifolia to counter the effects of all bacterial infections, topical or otherwise. The Eclectic physicians were loathed for many reasons, one being simple professional jealousy. They had an incredibly high success rate in treating bacterial infections while their allopathic brethren did not. Success rarely makes a person or a group popular. The key to the Eclectic success was Echinacea angustifolia.
Oddly enough, if one surveys the contemporary consumer and indeed the modern practitioner, Echinacea angustifolia is rarely recommended or used in wound management. Echinacea angustifolia’s use as a vulnerary seems to have been almost entirely forgotten in the last 70 years. This is largely due to two factors. Firstly, the proponents of Echinacea angustifolia as a wound healing agent were put out of business by the allopaths 70 years ago. Secondly, at about the same time, antibiotics came into existence. It appeared that antibiotics were a group of drugs with a superior action to that of Echinacea angustifolia. This is a simplistic view, the important point being that this useful herbal medicine is no longer used in wound healing.
For many practical reasons, this forgotten use of Echinacea angustifolia needs to be resurrected. The primary reason being that wound management is once again a problem. Today, wounds represent a threat to human well being. The antibiotics which fail to clear urethritis, tonsillitis, and sinusitis, may also fail to prevent or clear topical infections resulting from domestic misadventures, occupational related injuries, and surgery. The drugs that once saved the day are not doing the job anymore.
The notion of hospital dwelling, “flesh melting” bacteria has been sensationalized by the general press. Though the hysteria generated by this coverage is largely unwarranted and represents scare mongering, these stories do speak of a very real problem confronting the medical profession. There are strains of bacteria which resist antibiotics. Some strains of bacteria have developed mechanisms, over the years, with which they “evade” death by antibiotics.
However, when one approaches the subject of wound care from the allopathic perspective, one finds a very troublesome situation. This is a good example. The allopathic medical community has at last wakened to the fact that the indiscriminate prescription of internal antibiotics leads to disastrous results. However, when one approaches the world of domestic wound healing, one finds topical antibiotic abuse alive and well. Take a trip to any chemist and you will find a rack of first aid creams filled with antibiotics of various descriptions. Unlike internal antibiotics, which require a prescription, topical antibiotics are freely available. If using antibiotics internally led to a generation of resistant bacteria, is it not logical that the topical application of antibiotics may do the same? In this case, the use of topical antibiotics is far more widespread. Perhaps no one wants to talk about topical antibiotics because no one has an alternative on hand. Regardless of the reason no one is looking at topical antibiotics. The rational mind sees they are bound to cause a problem one day soon.
The scientific community’s solution to the problem of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria is to search out new antibiotics. The theory seems to be “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” Antibiotics, though a great addition to the medical repertoire, have been established to have a fatal flaw. Despite this fact, new technologies or a different way of handling the bacteria problem is not being pursued. Not only does the pharmacist have little to hand the consumer as an alternative, they are unlikely to have anything in the near immediate future. Non-antibiotic solutions to topical bacterial infections are not exactly rolling off the assembly line.
Though the allopaths appear “lost in space” in regards to wound management, phytotherapists do not need to follow their lead. We need drugs that can prevent bacterial infection in wounds and speed the healing process. The concept of using agents that simply kill the bacteria has not worked out that well. We need to abandon it. We need to employ drugs that represent a different tactic. Fortunately, with a world of plants at our disposal, we have options.
Rather than looking for antibacterial agents, why not look for plants that stimulate the immune system? Why not use plants that harness the body’s own bacteria killing ability? We have no shortage of plants which have been proven to stimulate the immune system. Echinacea angustifolia is such a plant. We may not know much about it as a wound healing agent, but in fact, there is a lot to know. It has a long history of being used to heal wounds and contemporary evidence to support that history. There is no time like the present to investigate one medicinal plant that could reinvent the world of wound healing. Let’s see what Echinacea angustifolia has to offer the practitioner looking for a non-antibiotic antibiotic.
The Drug in Question: Echinacea angustifolia
To begin, though the industry refers to the Echinacea species as “Echinacea” generically, and at times the phytotherapeutic community makes the same mistake, it would be wise to dispense with this regrettable practice. These are different plants and they need to be dealt with individually.
If one examines the chemical constituents found in Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida, one finds each contains a different cocktail of compounds. We know that medicinal plants are made active by the chemicals that make them up. Therefore, different chemical profiles are bound to result in different actions. Though Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea pallida are closely allied plants phytochemically, they are not synonymous with one another.
This article reviews the use of Echinacea angustifolia in wound healing not the Echinacea species. The story starts with the Native Americans and continues onto the Eclectics. The very limited records we have of the pre-colonial Native American use of the Echinacea species in wound healing indicate the Native Americans used Echinacea angustifolia. The Eclectics only used Echinacea angustifolia in wound healing. Indeed, the Eclectics were rather vocal about the inferiority of the other species and were adamant that the official drug was Echinacea angustifolia.
Dr. Finley Ellingwood, a leading Eclectic, said this in 1919, “There is considerable confusion concerning the identity of the active medicinal species of Echinacea. The Echinacea purpurea of the Eastern States has been thought to be identical with the Echinacea angustifolia of the Western States. It is often used for the same purposes, but is universally disappointing.”1 The pioneers of Echinacea did not confuse the species and neither should we. The drug being discussed in this article is Echinacea angustifolia and the material contained herein applies to that species alone.
Native American Use of Echinacea Angustifolia in Wound Management
Combing through the North American ethnobotanical texts, one finds that Native Americans used Echinacea angustifolia in several classes of wounds. A summary of the recorded uses would include:
1. A vulnerary in venomous bites (e.g., snake, insect, tarantula, etc.)
2. A vulnerary and anodyne in burns.
3. An antiseptic in fresh and infected wounds.2,3,4,5
Eclectic Use of Echinacea Angustifolia in Wound Management
Despite the fact the Eclectics learned of Echinacea angustifolia from the Native Americans, they regarded it as a drug they had personally discovered. The following quote comes from the 1909 version of ‘King’s Dispensatory’.
“Now a well-known drug, Echinacea (angustifolia) stands peculiarly alone in being essentially a new remedy. Many remedies which have lately been introduced, can be traced back for years, and some of them for centuries, as having at some time occupied a place in either domestic or professional practice, but our ancient scientific works are silent concerning this species of Echinacea. A careful search through the large numbers of works upon domestic medicine, herbal, medical botanies, and the so-called “irregular” works upon practice, contained in the Lloyd Library, failed to reveal even a mention of Echinacea angustifolia as a medicinal agent. The first notices concerning Echinacea (angustifolia) are from Eclectic physicians, and the drug is, from start to finish, an Eclectic medicine.” 6
This was wishful thinking on the part of the Eclectics. However, it would be accurate to say that the Eclectics pioneered its use in western medicine and expanded the horizons of its use in wound healing. By examining the Eclectic use of Echinacea angustifolia in wound healing, one sees how relevant it is in the world in which we live today.
Dr. Herbert Webster, an Eclectic physician working in California was one of the early champions of Echinacea angustifolia. In his text on materia medica, published in 1898, we find two case histories which are representative of the early Eclectic use of Echinacea angustifolia. These case histories come from his section entitled “Antiseptics, Antizymotics, Correctives”.
A Gangrenous Wound
“I was called to a case with a history of blood poisoning and treatment with caustic, mercuric bichloride and hot water – a man sixty-five years of age. Two physicians had given him up. I was much inclined to follow their example, but thought it a good case to test Echinacea. On entering the room Professor Scudder’s ‘Rose’ and Professor Howe’s ‘Tandog’ were suggested by the intolerable stench. Examination revealed a mass of dead flesh between the metacarpal bones of the index finger and thumb of the right hand. Lifting it, the metacarpal bone lay bare the whole length, both extensor and flexor muscles having sloughed off. The old man was very weak and exhibited the characteristic symptoms of severe poisoning, so I dismissed the thought of amputation and applied the Echinacea locally, diluting it one-half, also giving it internally full strength. At the end of a week the patient was out of bed.
The other day he walked into my office and exhibited his hand. The chasm was pretty well filled with healthy flesh, the bone being visible at only one small point, the edges of the wound contracted and so covered with skin that it was reduced to less than one-third its former dimensions. Several times during the treatment I withdrew the internal medicine. Every attempt was followed in a short time by sloughing at some point.“7
An Infected Insect Bite
“Shortly after my return from Europe (October, 1890) a rancher from San Bernardino county applied to me for relief from effects of a tarantula bite on the hand, received while working among his grape vines. The bite had been inflicted more than a month before I saw the hand, and plenty of time had elapsed for the effects of the poison to become manifested locally. The middle finger of the right hand over the dorsal aspect of the first phalanx, presented a purplish, sloughing ulcer, as large as a silver quarter, and the whole finger was enormously swollen its entire length, and presented a bluish, shiny appearance. The entire hand was purple and oedematous, while the patient was worn and emaciated from the constitutional effects of the poison and loss of rest resulting from the local discomfort. The home doctor had treated the case from the beginning, but nothing used had seemed to afford any benefit.
Thus I gave the agent singly, determined to allow it a fair field and no favors. On the second day afterward I saw the hand, and was surprised at the evidence of improvement already visible. Within a week the angry appearance was all gone and ulcer nearly healed. All the malignant aspects of the case had given way, and a few days more sufficed to send the patient on his way rejoicing.”7
The Eclectics found that Echinacea angustifolia was efficient in clearing bacterial infection, even when it had progressed to the point of gangrene. This use does not go beyond the Native American use for the plant. However, in the same text we do see the Eclectics becoming clever. The good doctor makes this comment, “where there is a tendency to gangrenous states it excels.”7
Not only could Echinacea angustifolia be used to prevent wounds from becoming infected and clear existing infections, it could be used in those individuals predisposed to infection! Two examples of such patients would be the bedridden and the diabetic. Today, the diabetic and the bedridden patient pose as serious a challenge to the medical profession as they did to the Eclectics. There are still patients inclined to develop slow healing sores and Echinacea angustifolia, according to the Eclectics, could make a difference.
In 1905, Dr. F. J. Petersen mentions Echinacea angustifolia for a purpose which would become a classic Eclectic use. The line is short and to the point and it altered the face of Eclectic medicine. “As a wet surgical dressing it has no equal.”8 The discovery of a plant that could prevent infections resulting from surgery opened the door for more surgery. At the time, a physician had to well and truly agonise over whether or not to proceed surgically. Echinacea angustifolia made surgery more of a realistic option.
In 1909, ‘Kings Dispensatory’ was re-released having been updated by Harvey Wickes Felter. Again we find Echinacea angustifolia being used in the surgical theatre. In this instance the drug is used internally and externally to prevent post-operative infection. An Eclectic Echinacea angustifolia product, echafolta is referenced.
“Prof. L. E. Jones advises echafolta as a preventative of sepsis, giving it internally previously to operations, to act as an intestinal antiseptic, and locally, as a corrective, to dress any traumatism showing signs of sepsis, and as a wash in abdominal and pelvic operations into which any organ has discharged septic contents. Phlegmonous swellings, old sores, erysipelas with sloughing phagedena, dissecting or surgical wounds, phlegmasia dolens, dermatitis venenata, and pus cavities should be treated with Echinacea or echafolta, both locally and internally.” 9
In this text we find mention of Echinacea angustifolia being used to prevent infection in the vulnerable and to treat those suffering from severe bacterial infections. In fact, we read of instances of bacterial infection that would be hard to imagine in the modern world. Even in these dire instances, the Eclectics found Echinacea angustifolia curative!
“To correct fluid depravation, ‘bad blood’, tendency to sepsis and malignancy, as in gangrene, sloughing and phagedenic ulcerations, carbuncles, boils, and various forms of septicaemia; foul discharges, with weakness and emaciation; deepened, bluish or purplish coloration of skin or mucous membranes, with a low form of inflammation; dirty-brownish tongue; jet-black tongue; tendency to the formation of multiple cellular abscesses of semi-active character, with marked asthenia. Of especial importance in typhoid, septicaemic and other adynamic fevers, and in malignant carbuncle, pulmonary gangrene, cerebro-spinal meningitis and pyosalphinx. Echafolta is advised as a cleansing wash in surgical operations, and to annul the pain of and to deodorize carcinomata.” 9
In the same text Felter goes on to advise the reader as to how Echinacea angustifolia should be used. The writer makes it clear that the drug was to be used internally and externally and that a purified extract was to be used in the surgical setting. “As a therapeutic agent Echinacea is often used both internally and locally at the same time; therefore in this article the internal and external uses will not be given separately, but collectively. And in as much as Echafolta is a name given to distinguish a purified form of Echinacea, the remarks concerning the one are equally applicable to the other, except in important surgical cases, where greater cleanliness is desired, when Echafolta is to be preferred.” 9
In 1919, Dr. Ellingwood wrote one of the final Eclectic texts. The Eclectic understanding of Echinacea angustifolia had increased through ongoing trials in their clinics and hospitals. This last text tells us the specific instances in which the Eclectics found the drug useful and how they used it. For those looking for non-antibiotic wound management agents, this list will be of great interest.
As a consequence of European colonialism, many of the Native American Medicine Men were reduced to earning a living as travelling showmen. They travelled into white settlements to earn a bit of money and had a trick to interest towns people in the medicines they peddled. Namely, they soaked their hands in Echinacea angustifolia and after the fact handled hot coals with impunity. Echinacea angustifolia had been used in the past by the Native Americans to deaden the pain of burns. The ability of Echinacea angustifolia to block the transmission of pain suggested by this cultural phenomena reappears in Ellingwood’s text. Slightly dressed up, we learn that Echinacea angustifolia, apart from reducing the risk of infection, offered pain relief.
“This agent is markedly anaesthetic in its local influence. Applied to open wounds and to painful swellings, while the alcohol may at first induce a burning sensation, this is quickly followed by entire relief from pain in many cases. So marked is this influence that it could well be used for an antiseptic local anaesthetic. Applied to painful surfaces, to local acute and painful inflammations of the integument, or to painful wounds, its anaesthetic influence is soon pronounced, and is of great benefit, in preserving freedom from pain during the active healing processes, which are stimulated and encouraged by this remedy.”10
In the Eclectic day, the sooner you got a wound healed up the better. When the integrity of the skin was broken, bacteria had an open invitation to enter the body. The Eclectics did not let wounds stay open for long and were constantly in search of drugs that would speed the process. Ellingwood mentions several instances in which Echinacea angustifolia could be used to inspire the body to bridge the gaps.
Bed Sores, Chronic Ulcers, and Tibia Ulcers
“In bed sores, fever sores and chronic ulcerations it is exceedingly useful. It is diluted and applied directly, while it is given internally. It is of much value in old tibial ulcers, in chronic glandular indurations and in scrofulous and syphilitic nodules and other specific skin disorders. The extract or the fluid extract can be combined with an ointment base such as lanolin in the proportion of one part to one, two or three parts of the base and freely applied. It can be injected into the sinuses of carbuncles, or into the structure of the diseased parts with only good results.”10
North America is inhabited by a reasonable number of venomous creatures. On the prairie, where the Eclectics practised, this was doubly the case. Generally speaking there are two sorts of venom, one type that affects the nervous system and another type which is cytotoxic. The Eclectics recommended Echinacea angustifolia for the latter. In this instance, the venom of rattlesnakes, scorpions, and tarantulas destroyed tissue on contact. A person bitten by a rattler ended up with an orange size patch of gangrenous tissue wherever the bite happened to land. The Eclectics found that this type of wound was masterfully treated by Echinacea angustifolia.
“The agent has been long in use among the Indians in the West as a sure cure for snake bite. It has created a furor among the practitioners, who have used it in the bites of poisonous animals, that has made the reports, apparently, too exaggerated to establish credulity on the part of the inexperienced. Cases that seemed hopeless have rapidly improved after the agent was applied and administered. There is at present no abatement in the enthusiasm. One physician controlled the violent symptoms from the bite of a tarantula, and quickly eliminated all trace of the poison with its use. Dr. Banta of California treated a man bitten by a scorpion, reported in the Eclectic Medical Journal, with Echinacea with rapid cure.”10
Though the Eclectics treated fresh wounds with Echinacea angustifolia, they also treated wounds that had become infected or were thought to have been infected (e.g., rabies). Echinacea angustifolia was used in the same manner antibiotics are used today with one notable exception. The Eclectics used the drug to treat rabies, a viral disease. The scope of potential use, bearing this in mind, is much greater than that of antibiotics.
“By far the most difficult reports to credit are those of the individuals bitten by rabid animals; there are between twenty and thirty reports at the present time. In no case has hydrophobia yet occurred, and this was the only remedy used in many of the cases. In five or six cases, animals bitten at the same time as the patient had developed rabies, and had even conveyed it to other animals, and yet the patient showed no evidence of poisoning, if the remedy was used at once.”10
“A large amount of satisfactory evidence has accumulated confirmatory of our statements concerning the curative action of the remedy in tetanus. Dr. John Herring reported one marked cure. Dr. Lewis reports three cases, where the remedy was injected into the wound after tetanic symptoms had shown themselves. All the tissues surrounding the wound were filled with the remedy by hypodermic injection and gauze saturated with a full strength preparation was kept constantly applied. The agent was also administered in half-dram doses internally, every two or three hours. Another physician has reported the observation of quite a number of cases where tetanus had either markedly developed, or was anticipated.”10
“The use of Echinacea in the treatment of impetigo contagiosa is confirmed. One doctor treated several very severe cases and the rational action of the remedy suggests that its use externally and internally in this disease will prove highly satisfactory.”10
“In the treatment of erysipelas it has given more than ordinary satisfaction, and has established itself permanently in that disorder. It is especially needed when sloughing and tissue disintegration occur, its external influence being most reliable.”10
Using Echinacea angustifolia
Ellingwood takes us out with extremely important information regarding dosage. If one wanted to use Echinacea angustifolia effectively for those purposes enumerated by the Eclectics, one needs to use it the way they used it.
“I am convinced that success in certain cases depends upon the fact that the patient must have at times a sufficiently large quantity of this remedy in order to produce full antitoxic effects on the virulent infections. I would therefore emphasize the statement which I have previously made that it is perfectly safe to give Echinacea in massive doses – from two drams to half an ounce every two or three hours – for a time at least, when the system is overwhelmed with the toxins. This applies to tetanus, anthrax, actinomycosis, pyemia, diphtheria, hydrophobia, and meningitis.”10
Concluding the Eclectics, Echinacea angustifolia, and Wound Management
Eclectic texts indicate that Echinacea angustifolia could be used in many of the instances in which antibiotics are failing. They used it to prevent surgical wounds from becoming infected. Hospitals, breeding grounds of resistant strains of bacteria, are the place surgical wounds are created. They used it to treat wounds that had become infected. Today, wounds that manage to become infected are likely to harbour bacteria manifesting some degree of antibiotic resistance.
Moreover, the Eclectic texts indicate that the scope of Echinacea angustifolia is far wider than that of antibiotics. They used the drug to correct the tendency to infection and to stimulate the healing process. They felt that Echinacea angustifolia somehow stimulated the healing force within the body. They used it to treat viral infections and reported good success. We now know that Echinacea angustifolia stimulates the immune system, which is responsible for keeping infections at bay. The same system is behind the healing of a wound. Not only is Echinacea angustifolia a potential antibiotic substitute, it represents a superior drug.
Contemporary research is validating the Eclectic use of Echinacea angustifolia in wound healing. Much of the work has been done on animals and is terribly preliminary. However, despite the need for human research, the available work indicates that Echinacea angustifolia is the drug the Eclectics said it was – a multi-dimensional wound healing agent. It inhibits pathogens indirectly through the immune system stimulation. It also directly inhibits pathogens. It acts as an anti-inflammatory and pain killer. It would pay to look at these activities in closer detail to develop a true appreciation of this medicinal plants potential.
Indirect Pathogen Inhibition: Immune System Stimulation
Fifty years of antibiotic use has brought one lesson forward. Agents which simply kill bacteria, in time, stop working. They lead to bacteria which are able to resist the killing agent. Clearly the better solution is to harness the body’s own intrinsic ability to deal with microbial invaders. Immune system stimulation is preferable to the use of anti-microbial agents. At a minimum, it is a new direction.
Echinacea angustifolia’s ability to stimulate the immune system is well documented. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a recent discovery. The Eclectics, in 1920, found that hospitalised tuberculosis patients, when dosed with Echinacea angustifolia, experienced an increase in macrophage count. Beyond this, the Eclectics noted that prior to the administration of Echinacea angustifolia, the macrophages were disinclined to take up any of the tuberculous bacteria. After its administration, they were found to contain, on average, 8 bacteria.10 The Eclectics discovered Echinacea angustifolia’s ability to stimulate the human immune system.
Contemporary animal research confirms the Eclectic finding. Here are two examples. Ethanolic extracts of Echinacea angustifolia root extracts caused in vitro a 20-30% increase in phagocytosis.11 In carbon clearance tests, alkylamide fractions from Echinacea angustifolia increased the rate of carbon elimination.12 The ultimate solution to the bacteria problem is to get the body to do the work. The microbes might become immune to a given toxin, but they are unlikely to become immune to immune cell attack.
Direct Pathogen Inhibition: Anti-Microbial Activity
Though agents that specifically inhibit microbes represent old technology, it is interesting to note that Echinacea angustifolia contains anti-microbial constituents. A caffeic acid complex derived from the roots of Echinacea angustifolia was shown to act as a mild antibiotic.13 Four bacteriostatic and fungistatic polyacetylene compounds were isolated from Echinacea angustifolia.14 Echinacea angustifolia contains volatile oils15, 16. Volatile oils have a well demonstrated anti-microbial activity. Though none of these actions are described as being potent, they are described. This feature, though antiquated technology, would not hurt a wound.
The Eclectics found that Echinacea angustifolia had an anti-inflammatory effect on poisonous insect bites and snake bites. Contemporary research has confirmed that root extracts of Echinacea angustifolia are anti-inflammatory in nature.17,18 Anti-inflammatory is a fairly broad term. As it does not indicate the manner in which the inflammation is resolved, it leaves a lot to the imagination. However, in animal experiments, it has been shown to reduce inflammation. An anti-inflammatory that does not inhibit the immune system is a novel concept.
Echinacea angustifolia may act as an anti-inflammatory agent as a consequence of increasing the number and activity of macrophages. Offending agents such as venom, once taken out of circulation, stop creating inflammation. Echinacea angustifolia may be anti-inflammatory in the sense that it speeds the healing process directly. Once healing occurs, inflammation resolves. On the other hand, the plant contains phytosterols, which might inhibit the inflammatory process.19 Echinacea angustifolia also contains an essential oil15,16 of which several of the component oils have been established to have anti-inflammatory and anti-oedemic activity (Borneo, caryophyllene, alpha-pinene).21 Clearly it would be nice if additional research could clarify this situation. Most importantly, we know Echinacea angustifolia acts as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Pain Killing Activity
Though pain killers do not directly improve wound healing, they do mitigate suffering on the part of the person in need of healing. The historical records state clearly Echinacea angustifolia reduces pain and contemporary research has begun to illuminate this activity. Echinacea angustifolia contain an alkylamide which has been determined to have a local anaesthetic effect20. The same compound is responsible for the tingling sensation experienced when the root of Echinacea angustifolia is chewed.
The standard drugs used in wound healing are failing and the allopathic world has little to offer in their place. Not so with the world of herbal medicine. As has been demonstrated with Echinacea angustifolia, herbal medicine does have viable solutions on hand. With its extensive history and supportive contemporary research, Echinacea angustifolia may represent the “new technology” in wound healing that the world so desperately needs.
In many ways it appears an advancement to the simplistic antibiotic. It stimulates the immune system, inhibits bacteria, reduces inflammation and pain, and would appear to stimulate the healing process. When one juxtaposes its activity with that of antibiotics, one sees what a superior drug it is. There is little wonder the Eclectics were so fond of it. Regardless of whether or not the allopathic world takes note, Echinacea angustifolia offers the practitioner of phytotherapy an excellent alternative wound healing agent.
Our group of phytotherapists is presently looking at Echinacea angustifolia as a tool in wound management. We have been using it quite extensively and have found it highly effective. Several severe wounds have been miraculously turned around with its administration and many other less severe cases have been equally favourably influenced. Here is a brief list of uses we are now recommending.
- Patients undergoing surgery should start taking it internally a week prior to surgery and for a month following surgery. A tincture of 25% alcohol or more can be topically applied to the wound to speed healing. A small spray bottle makes application easier.
- People travelling to countries with rampant bacterial infection can take a small spray bottle filled with Echinacea angustifolia tincture with them as a first aid tool. There is no better a treatment for coral wounds.
- People travelling to locations infested with mosquitoes and other stinging insects can bring the same spray bottle with them to reduce inflammation and discomfort from bites.
- The patient confined to bed can use Echinacea angustifolia internally and externally to prevent and heal bed sores.
- The diabetic patient can use Echinacea angustifolia internally and externally to resolve slow healing wounds.
- The medicine chest can be stocked with a spray bottle loaded with Echinacea angustifolia to be used in domestic misadventures, cuts, scratches, and burns included.
- A small spray bottle with the tincture can be kept in the work place first aid kit. As an example, kitchen workers find it particularly useful for the constant cuts and burns inflicted on the job.
The potential applications of Echinacea angustifolia in wound healing are unlimited. The really exciting news being that this is only one herbal medicine with potential as a wound healing agent. There are many others. Calendula officinalis, Commiphora molmol and Achillea millefolium are three that quickly spring to mind. Herbal medicine is a treasure trove for all who are seeking solutions to the current predicament. It is time practitioners of phytotherapy start taking advantage of all that we have available, and perhaps teach the Allopaths a trick or two.
- Ellingwood, Finley. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics, and Pharmacognosy. Ellingwood’s Therapeutist. Chicago (1919).
- Gilmore, Melvin Randolph. Uses of Plants by the Indians of the Missouri River Region (1919).
- Gilmore, Melvin Randolph. A Study in the Ethnobotany of the Omaha Indians. Collections of the Nebraska State Historical Society. Edited by Albert Watkins. Volume 17 (1913).
- Smith, Huron. Ethnobotany of the Meswaki Indians. Bulletin of the Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee. Volume 4. Number 2. (April, 1928).
- Densmore, Frances. Used of Plants by the Chippewa Indians. Forty-fifth Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology (1928).
- Felter, Harvey Wickes. Kings Dispensatory. Volume one and Volume two. Ohio Valley Company. Cincinnati (1898).
- Webster, Herbert T. Dynamical Therapeutics-A work devoted to the Theory and Practice of Specific Medication with special references to the newer remedies. H.T. Webster. Second Edition (1898).
- Peterson, F. J. Materia Medica and Clinical Therapeutics. Published by the Author. Los Olivos, California (1905).
- Felter, Harvey Wickes. Kings Dispensatory. Volume one and Volume two. Ohio Valley Company. Cincinnati (1909).
- Ellingwood, Finley. American Materia Medica, Therapeutics, and Pharmacognosy. Ellingwood’s Therapeutist. Chicago (1919.)
- Bauer, R., Juricic, K., Puhlmann, J. and Wagner, H. Arzneim. – Forsch. 38, 276-281 (1988).
- Biozzi, G., Benacerraf, B., Stiffel, C. and Halpern, B. N., R. C. Soc. Biol. Paris 148, 431 (1954).
- Stoll, A., Renz, J. and Brack, A. Helv. Chim. Acta 33, 1877-1893 (1950).
- Schulte, K. E., Ruecker, G. and Perlick, J. J. Arzneim. – Forsch 17, 825-829 (1967).
- Sayre, L. E. Drug Circ.42, 124-125 (1898).
- Sayre, L. E. TransKansa. Acad. Sci. 19, 209-213. (1905).
- Tubaro, A., Tragni, E., Del Negro, P., Galli, C. L. and Della Loggia, R. J. Pharm. Pharmacol. 39, 567-569 (1987).
- Tragni, E., Galli, C. L., Tubaro, Al., DelNegro, P. and Della Logia. R. Pharm. Res. Comm. 20 (Suppl. V), 87-90 (1988).
- Heyl, F. W. and Hart, M. C., J. Am. Chem. Soc. 37, 1769-1778 (1915).
- Jacobson, M. J. Org. Chem.32, 1646-1647 (1967).
- Duke, James A. Handbook of Biologically Active Phytochemicals and their Activities. CRC Press. Ann Arbor (1992).