Chapter from “Thirty Plants That Can Save Your Life”
Welcome to Echinacea. I literally wrote the book on Echinacea……so clearly I feel it is a medicinal plant that people need to know about! This section is dedicated to raising awareness about Echinacea and its incredibly healing capacity. The plant stimulates healing, and as such, it has a wide variety of uses. Some you may know about, some you may not. Either way, if you want to know more about Echinacea you have found the right website.
Before we get too far into this, let me say this. When I speak of Echinacea, I mean the root of Echinacea angustifolia. The plant with the long history of medicinal use and the scientific back up for these uses, is Echinacea angustifolia and more specifically, the root of this plant. What is said on this website refers to this specific item and to nothing else. A lot of companies are making products with the leaves of Echinacea purpurea, because they are cheap and plentiful, and I do not recommend their use. If it is not Echinacea angustifolia root, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not Echinacea. Read packaging carefully because this cheap substitute gets snuck into a lot of the stuff I see on the shelf.
That bit of clarification aside, Echinacea angustifolia is an amazing plant with incredible healing potential, and, I think everyone should have some in the house. Whether to speed the healing of a cut or a burn, prevent or minimize a cold, or to be used any other time where healing is required, this is something amazing.
The plant speeds healing through stimulation of the Immune System, which in turn is responsible for healing. It is one of the most efficient immune stimulants I know, and therefore one of the most efficient healing stimulators I know. I know all about it, and hopefully, this website will help you know more about it, and convince you to keep some in your medicine chest!
Echinacea Fact Sheet
Echinacea angustifolia, E. purpurea
Part Used: Root
Remember this : Immune System Rocket Fuel
Reasonable uses : chronic infections, acute infections. suseptability to infection, coughs, colds, influenza, bronchitis, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, skin infections, acne, athletes foot, nail fungus, herpes, warts, chronic fatigue syndrome, ME,
History and Traditional Uses
Life on the range was ugly. Poisonous snakes were just one adversity faced by American settlers faced, infected barnyard wounds were another. Luckily, Native Americans told them about Echinacea which cured both problems and a lot more.
Nearly 110 years ago doctors known as the Eclectics found that the key to echinacea working so well in snake bite and infection wad due to enhanced immune function. They found that echinacea increased the number of white blood cells patrolling the body for infection and that it made these cells more vicious in their attack! Contemporary research has proven this early research was accurate.
Scientific back up
Echinacea stimulates the production of infection-fighting white blood cells, the phagocytes and lymphocytes. It enables them to kill and dispose of more toxins, disease causing microbes(bacteria, viruses, and fungi), and cancer cells. Echinacea has been shown to combats colds, flu, infections, and infected wounds.
More than just increasing white blood cell counts, evidence indicates that echinacea also boosts the body’s production of interferon (a virus and cancer killer ) and properdin (a bacteria and virus fighter).
Herbalists use it to………
Echinacea causes a massive production of the white blood cells responsible for whacking the viruses behind coughs, colds, and flu. If taken at the first signs of aching bones and irritability, Echinacea can be used to prevent a full blown case of the flu coming on.
Prevent infections following influenza
Influenza is a serious condition, especially for the young and the old. Secondary infections like pneumonia and bronchitis set in and can become life threatening. Echinacea is used to prevent these two serious secondary infections other less serious but equally tiresome infections such as tonsillitis, sinusitis, and pharyngitis.
Rehabiliate urinary tract infection repeat offenders.
Women, especially run down working women, tend to get chronic urinary tract infections, one after another. Herbalists use Echinacea to stimulate the immune system and get these infections gone for good.
Prevent wound infection
Many of the most commonly used topical antibiotics used in first aid situations are no longer effective. Herbalists recommend Echinacea be used internally and externally to prevent wounds and burns infection.
Prevent stress colds
Stress depresses the immune system. It puts it to sleep. This is why we tend to get a whopper of a cold following exams, after a wedding, or a bad patch in our personel lives. To prevent the predictable cold, use Echinacea to wake up that sleeping immune system.
Dosage and Duration
Though you can use Echinacea long term, medicines should be taken when they are needed. If you are run down, use it. When you feel up to par, stop using it. It stimulates the immune system and should be used when the immune system needs a boost.
Consumer beware. Echinacea is big business. There are lot of charlatans out there selling bogus echinacea products. Only purchase products that state clearly echinacea root. Avoid all products that state echinacea leaf. If you cant tell which part of the plant was used, do not buy the product. Plain old root products have stood the test of time and have always worked. Do not bother with standardised extracts. Avoid all products standardised to the echinacosides.
Echinacea increases white blood cell counts. It should not be used by people with Leukemia.
Relative to our other tonic plants, echinancea, our next ingrediant, is really new to most of the world. A Native American plant first used by the Indians and then by the pioneers that moved in around them, echinacea is most commonly used in flower gardens. Having worked as a landscape designer for years, I planted thousands of these plants, never knowing the incredible story behinds its use and its even more astounding reputation. There I was sticking echinacea plant after plant into the ground, totally ignorant of the fact that it could have been saving my life there and then. Take a good look and see if you don’t have some of this plant in your flower garden.
In order to get the full picture on echincacea, we have to look into early colonial American history. When the colonials got here they were confronted with a multitude of unpleasantries, bugs, scalpings, new diseases, and big old snakes, to mention a few. The snakes were a problem to folks, as walking around the snake’s territory was part of the plan, and people were continually getting bit. Of course one good rattler bit and you could become fertilizer for one of Johnny Apple Seed’s trees. Right away people started looking for plants that could help you survive a snake bite, and a long list of snake bite plants were found among the Native American plants, one of which was echinacea, called formerly, Kansas snake root:
Canada snake root
sampsons snake root
Virginia snake root
creeping snake root
These all represent different plants, as the colonials learned of the snake plants from the Indians living closest to themselves, and this varied from region to region. Aside from being used to treat the viper’s sting, these plants were used for all healing purposes, and were usually the most powerful healing plants the Natives had to show the white man. Most life threatening illnesses were treated with these “snake roots” and in time their powers were thought to be nothing short of miraculous.
Snake bite is a thing of the past for most of us, there aren’t that many poisonous snakes in the suburban setting where most of us live, and as such we aren’t familiar with the concept. It’s actually quite simple, a snake bites you and injects you with a lethal substance. It’s rather like receiving a death serum or an injection of poison. As soon as the poison from the snake enters your body, the body spends its time trying to get the poison back out. The body does this as the poison can lead to the death of tissue which can in turn lead to gangrene, a most unpleasant skin and body condition.
So the body has to work double time pumping the toxins out of the body, the body cleaner cells fly to the scene of the disaster, apprehend the killer substances, and work on shipping them out of the body through the liver and then the kidneys. Somehow, the snake roots, particularly echinacea, speed this process up, and helped the body mobilize against the intruder.
The time of the colonials moving westward was quite an interesting moment in American cultural development. Different people from different parts of the world traveled in wagon trains together to the parts of the states in which free land was being offered by the U. S. government. Never mind it already belonged to somebody else, that’s a different book. These people came into contact with the Natives and from them learned new curing techniques, and specifically new plants, like echinacea.
On the wagon train were folk doctors, doctors not necessarily trained in the art in school, but trained on the road. These men and women forced to learn about doctoring were in contact with the Indian Medicine men and from them learned of plants that were readily available on the wagon train. The European plants were far, far, away, and people had to make do. From this exchange of information new plants were “discovered,” and in time accepted into the stuffed shirt medical communities safely tucked away on the East Coast and from that point in Europe .
Here’s a good example of how that exchange went down. A certain H. C. F. Meyer, a German country doctor became aware of echinacea and made a product, called Meyers Blood Purifier out of it. The product was fairly popular and, of course, its main ingrediant was the cone flowers. He was so convinced of echinacea’s power to save that he tried to take the information to the traditional medical community back east. Which was noble, but the manner in which he tried to bring the information to the traditional medical community may have done more damage than good. He wrote a medical group and offered to let a snake bite him, he would provide the snake or the doctors could collect their own, and he would cure himself with nothing but echinacea.
You can just imagine the stuffy white coated doctors sitting at their professional conference, pressed collars on one and all, and some cattle rustling dust trail healer screaming outside their window, “Hey, this plant works so well, I’ll let this here snake bite me, and this here plant will make me just fit as a fiddle.”
Well, needless to say, the stuffed shirts just shut the window and went back to their meeting. Their immediate response was probably something like this, “Oh, yeh, well I have some property in Florida for sale too. Go away little boy, you’re bothering me.” Here’s what one of the physicians had to say about the wild man’s offer:
“In view of our incredulity as to the virtues of the drug in the direction of the bites of poisonous serpents, he (Meyer) offered to come to Cincinnati and, in the presence of a committee selected by ourselves, allow a rattlesnake of our selection to bite him wherever we might prefer the wound to be inflicted, proposing then to antidote the poison by means for Echinacea only. This offer (or rather, challenge) we declined. Dr. Meyer, thinking this was because we had no serpent at our command, again offered not only to come to Cincinnati and submit to the ordeal formerly proposed, but to bring with him a full-sized rattlesnake, possessed of its natural fangs. . .”
The offer was made to two doctors, King and Lloyd, eclectics belonging to an herbal branch of medicine now extinct. This is a classic example of listen to the message and not the messenger, and eventually these two doctors got the message, and would become echinacea’s best friend and its champions. Though initially doubtful of this new plant’s powers, the plant was introduced into the American Materia Medica in 1887 and had quite a heyday in the world of patent medicine.
As the debate was going on in the scientific community, the colonials themselves who had contact with the Indians were learning the same thing, echinacea was good for the body, and we find it appearing in American folklore.
Echinacea is native to the plains of the U.S. It grows wild nowhere else in the world, except for a few sparse patches in Southern Canada . As such we will be looking at a lot of Native American information as there isn’t a lot known about the plant, on a folk lore level anyhow, anywhere else. The plant has caught on and is now one of the most popular herbal remedies in Europe , but the history is here. What about that funky name? The plant made its way to Europe in the 17th century and was given the name echinacea from the Greek echinos (sea urchin or hedgehog), referring to the plant’s sea urchin-like flower. I’m sorry I bothered mentioning that, I’m sure you already knew that.
The Plains Indians used the plant to treat toothaches, sore throats, coughs, and infections. Their preferred method was to suck on the root. You may not realize it, but your best defense against taking in disease and keeping out toxins is in your mouth, portal to all things that go into your body. Did you ever notice your lymph nods under your chin, directly below you mouth, and how when you get sick they swell up? Well, your lymph glands are located there so they can pump out immunity fighting cells to mix along with whatever else passed through your mouth. The mouth produces soldier cells that are the first defense to knocking out disease, and eliminating toxins. Some researchers now feel that chewing on the root is actually the best way to use the immunity booster. Echinacea actually activates the saliva and immunity resources in the mouth so as to get anything coming in, out and fast. The old custom may be the best custom. The Sioux Indians believed the freshly scraped root of the black sampson or purple coneflower, Echinacea angustifolia, could be applied as a poultice against hydrophobia caused by dog bite or other animal bites. It would seem the Cheyenne used the plant for sore mouths, the Choctaws for coughs, the Comanche for sore throats, the Crow used it for colds, the Delaware for venereal diseases, and the Kiowas used it for colds and sore throats. The common denominator here is the plant was used to treat infection. Science has borne this out, but we will get to that in a little bit, hold your horses, I have to tell the story and pontificate a little more.
I have been harping on the fact that these tonic plants are special in some way, a manner that may not be readily tacked down by empirical medical science. Science has been able observe a human egg meeting a sperm, and conception occurring. They have been able to see this, but not replicate the magic process that leads to a human life coming into being. The miracle of birth has been picked apart, and yet no one can tell why it works that way. In a similar sort of way, I think plants contain the same miracle that can be seen in the conception process. There is something simply bizarre about these plants, something special.
Along these lines, echinacea has had a rather strange use, “The narrow leaved Purple Cone Flower is another plant much used by the Indians as a medicine. Gilmore relates that a Winebago told him he had often used the plant to make his mouth insensible to heat so that he could take live coals in his mouth. The juice is likewise used by Indians of many tribes for burns, and magicians are supposed to have applied it to their arms, that they might remove pieces of meat from pots of boiling water without harming themselves.”
I think there is something real odd about a plant that can prevent burns.
I mentioned a little earlier the Indian medicine men that taught the colonials all about herbs. Well, I forgot to mention they didn’t pass this information along for humanitarian reasons, they did it for bank, cold hard cash. In order to get the paying customers interested, they had to do a little medicine show, and one of the common tricks to get people convinced was treating themselves with echinacea, picking up hot things, and when they didn’t get burned, the wagoneers got in line to see the doctor. Hey, you have to do what you have to do.
So much for miracles of days gone by. Let’s take a look at what our modern scientific community has to say about echinacea. I will first let you know that echinacea is the most researched plant in the modern herbal world, it may have taken Dr. Meyer making an arse of himself, but eventually people took the cotton out of their ears. Here is what it has been found to do:
- Echinacea stimulates the production of leukocytes. Leukocites are the white blood cells that fight infection in the body.
- Assists the phagocytes in doing their job. In each of our cells there is a phagocyte, a little creatures whose job is to engulf toxins, package them off and prepare them for disposal. These M.P.s of the cell also remove damaged cells, and any irregularities in a cell. Essentially they are the trashmen and the quality control people in the cells. If a cell isn’t looking right, they zap it. If there is a little waste in the corner, they collect it up and put down the trash shoot.
- Hyaluronidase inhibitation (this helps protect cells during infection, and prevents pathogens, bacteria, and viruses from entering in the first place).
- Mild antibiotic effect
- Stimulates the properdin/complement system (helps the body control and prevent infections).
- Stimulates increased production of alpha-1 and alpha-2 gamma globulins (these prevent viral and other infections).
- Interferon-like action (helps prevent and control viral infections).
The message is that echinacea does, in fact, do what the medicine man said it did.
The part that is of interest to us moderns is that the plant was considered supreme in getting toxins effectively eliminated from the body. We live in a world filled with toxicity. Our environment is filled with carcinogenic gases, like car exhaust, or work spaces are filled with toxins resulting from too many people in one place, and our food contains toxic substances in the way of preservatives and pesticides. Though we don’t have to deal with the toxic venom of the snake, we do have to deal with the toxic venom of modern living, and some feel that echinacea is just as effective in this realm as it was in the former.
Now, you can buy echinacea at any herb seller, but this is a grand waste of money. For the price of one packet at the store, you can buy a plant and have echinacea for free right outside you door. The plant is a perennial and once you plant it in the ground, it just spreads all over the place. It is so tough many of the wild flower mixes you buy in jars and toss around an empty lot contain this seed. This one is easy. Once you get your hands on the plant, the time to harvest is in the fall.
For the most part the root is used in modern herbalism, and in order to collect the roots you have to destroy the plant. The stems and leaves are just as medicinal and some feel that they are, in fact, a bit safer for daily use than the oh so powerful root. One herbalist, Eric Pollard, told me that the root is such a strong medicine it should only be used when one finds oneself sick, which isn’t going to happen to us anymore with our tonic. Eric suggests that the leaves and stems are, in fact, better for daily use, so you don’t have to destroy your plants in the fall. Just clip them down and use the stems and all in your tonic pot.
Disclaimer: The author makes no guarantees as to the the curative effect of any herb or tonic on this website, and no visitor should attempt to use any of the information herein provided as treatment for any illness, weakness, or disease without first consulting a physician or health care provider. Pregnant women should always consult first with a health care professional before taking any treatment.