Echinacea's healing touch


the snow is falling outside and cold winds are blowing. But inside, co,workers are coughing while schools and day-care centers look like holiday hotels for every cold and flu bug in the neighborhood. It's mid-winter, and getting through the rest of the season without getting sick is on everyone's mind. To do that, your immune system has to be strong. You probably already know the basics:

EAT a diet rich in fresh veggies, whole grains, legumes and fruit

DRINK lots of water, preferably filtered

GET REGULAR EXERCISE, if possible in the great outdoors

SLEEP WELL, and, in winter, a little more than usual -- a minimum of 7 to 9 hours per night

Most people also need a good multiple vitamin, and extra vitamin C, beta carotene, D and the mineral zinc. Your doctor can tell you how much of each of these is right for you.
introducing echinacea

It's important to know about the herb echinacea, for if ever the germ-wary had a fairy godmother, echinacea is she. Known also as the "purple coneflower," echinacea is native to North America, particularly Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska, though it can. be found from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast, and south into Texas.

Native American tribes used echinacea frequently, and for a wide variety of conditions. Archeologists have found evidence of echinacea among the remains of Native American sites dating back to the 1600s. Indians chewed echinacea root to treat symptoms like cough and sore throat and they included the tea in sweats and steams to treat lower respiratory tract infections; they even used the plant in the treatment of gonorrhea.

It was from the American natives that the Eclectic Physicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (a national association of doctors using many healing practices) learned of echinaea's healing powers. The herb was added to the Eclectic Materia Medica in 1887, and, by 1921. was the most popular plant medicine used by Eclectic physicians in treating all manner of conditions.

Dr. Harvey Wickes Felter, professor of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, and of the History of Medicine in the Eclectic Medical College of Cincinnati, Ohio described echinacea as possessing "varied and remarkable therapeutic forces."

According to Eclectic texts of the period, echinacea was recommended for over 50 listed illnesses, ranging from abscesses and appendicitis through urethral infection, vulvitis, wasp stings and wounds.

Today we have effective mainstream treatments for many of the conditions for which the Eclectics prescribed echinacea. However, when it comes to the common cold, modern medicine has not yet be able to find us a cure.

Nor has modern medicine created any drug that rivals echinacea in two ways: the plant's ability to shorten the course of an upper respiratory tract infection and the plant's popularity with the general public.
what's in it?

There are nine species of echinacea, though three of these are the most popularly used and referenced in both folk and clinical medicine. These are Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea purpurea. Echinacea comes from the Greek word echinos, meaning sea urchin. A careful look at an echinaea flower in full bloom will reveal the source of the name: the dark purple cone of the flower does resemble a sea urchin.

Scientists are not yet sure which chemical constituents of echinacea are actually responsible for its healing properties. What we do know is that the plant's chemistry is complex. Echinacea extracts contain many compounds including flavonoids (color components), essential oils and polysaccharides (plant sugars). It is generally believed that polysaccharides and other compounds are most actively involved in echinacea's immune-enhancing work.
what it does

A multitude of studies conducted both through test tubes and on animals over the past, 30 years have examined the effectiveness of echinacea.

Twelve clinical studies, published between 1961 and 1997 concluded that echinacea was useful in treating the common cold. Five studies published between 1997 and 2000 revealed different results; two showed that echinacea did not treat or prevent upper respiratory tract infections, while three found that echinacea diminished the duration, frequency and severity of common cold symptoms.

Based on this, the medical consensus seems to be that echinacea may well be highly effective in treating the common cold. Even skeptics agree that the plant is generally considered safe and patients should not be discouraged from using it to treat their cold symptoms.

Another sophisticated debate continues on short-term vs. long-term use of echinacea. The general consensus, supported by the German version of our FDA, Commission E, is that echinacea should only be used for a short time, and should be avoided in cases of autoimmune diseases (like multiple sclerosis), a weakened immune system (such as in AIDS, cancer or severe asthma), and in pregnancy.

Other experts, including herbalist Kerry Bone and physician-author RF Weiss, suggest that the long-term use of echinacea is not harmful, and that it may be described as an "immunomodulator," a plant that enhances overall immune function, based on a body's needs.

Adverse reactions to echinacea are not common. Some people object to the taste, and most experts agree that it is best to avoid taking echinacea extract during pregnancy. It is also important to remember that echinacea is a member of the Asteraceae family, so folks allergic to plants such as sunflowers and ragweed had best avoid this herb. A few scattered reports of allergic reactions -- skin rash, sneezing, generalized itching, nausea, diarrhea, and even a few isolated cases of anaphylaetic reaction -- have been reported in the literature.

So until the debate over long-vs. shortterm use has reached some conclusion, people should follow the recommended guidelines: use echinacea when needed, at the onset of a cold, flu or upper respiratory tract infection, for no more than 2 consecutive weeks. Anyone wanting to use this herb over a lengthy period of time should do so only with the advice and consent of a physician.
how much,?

Echinacea products can be found just about everywhere in one or more of its various forms: tincture, tea, capsules, powder and fresh juice. The recommended adult dose of tincture is .75 to 1.5 ml. (15 to 30 drops) 1 to 6 times per day. Small doses repeated several times throughout the day at the earliest onset of a cold or flu seem to work the best. For those who prefer a tea, the general recommendation is two teaspoons of coarsely ground root and/or stem simmered in eight ounces of water for 8 minutes. If you choose the capsule form, follow the manufacturer's recommendations on dosage, usually 500 mg to 1,500 mg daily.

What can you expect from echinacea? Keeping a bottle of echinacea in the drawer at work just might be the best way to not worry about "catching something." The next time a co-worker coughs in your presence or honks with a lavish display of Kleenex and noise, you can simply smile, and reach for your tincture. Chances are, if you start taking echinacea at the first inklings of a cold, you might well be able to sail through winter without so much as a sick day.

PHOTO (COLOR): To sail through the winter sneeze-free, try taking echinacea along with eating a healthy diet and exercising.

PHOTO (COLOR): There are nine species of echinacea, also known as the "purple coneflower.'"


By Jamison Starbuck

Illustrations by Lloyd Gunther Dallett

Jamison Starbuck is a licensed naturopathic and homeopathic physician. Her family practice treats the whole person via constitutional homeopathy, botanical medicine, nutrition and other natural modalities.


-- Acute bronchitis (non-serious)--at first signs of illness, take a 200 mg. capsule three times daily before meals, or 1/2 tsp. of liquid extract (one tsp. of tincture) three times a day before meals. Take until symptoms are gone.

-- Cold --at first signs of the common cold, take a 200 mg. capsule three times daily before meals, or 1/2 tsp. of liquid extract (one tsp. of tincture) three times a day before meals. Take for up to 2 weeks.

-- Flu --upon exposure to flu-ridden colleagues, friends or children, take a 200 mg. capsule three times daily before meals. Take for up to 2 weeks.

-- Gingivitis --after brushing, rinse your mouth with echinacea tea (up to three times a day), or place two-to-three drops of echinacea liquid extract on a toothbrush and brush into or place two-to-three drops of echinacea liquid extract on a toothbrush and brush into gum line (up to three times a day).

-- Strep throat -gargle three times daily with echinacea tea; take a 200 mg. capsule three times daily before meals, or 1/2 tsp. of liquid extract (one tsp. of tincture) three times a day before meals.

-- Vaginitis -Douche with cool echinacea tea once a day. Also, take a 200 mg. capsule three times daily before meals, of 1/2 tsp. of liquid extract (one tsp. of tincture) three times a day before meals.

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