Although the science continues to emerge on the overall effectiveness of Echinacea, the majority of research tends to support its favorable effects in people. For hundreds of years, Native Americans have used Echinacea as a general therapy to treat infections and wounds. The historical uses of this plant range from using its medicinal properties to treat blood poisoning and scarlet fever to treating or preventing upper respiratory tract infections, which could be good news for the more than 1 billion Americans who catch colds annually.
Echinacea has been commercially available for more than 100 years. In fact, the very first Echinacea product available to consumers was introduced in 1895 by John Uri Lloyd, a pharmacist in Cincinnati. Within a few years, he co-founded Lloyd Brothers Pharmacists, Inc., and Echinacea became one of his best-selling products.
Today, Echinacea is most commonly used to reduce the severity and duration of symptoms associated with the cold or flu, such as a cough, runny nose and sore throat. Clinical studies have provided some mixed results about the effectiveness of Echinacea, although the majority of studies support its use. The inconsistencies may be due to the wide range of Echinacea products available, which can vary by species, part of the plant used in supplement preparation, dosage and frequency of administration. Of the various species studied, E. purpurea seems to have the strongest scientific support behind it.
Echinacea is also believed to be useful for:
Echinacea is available in many supplement forms -- dried plant powder, dried extract, liquid extracts or tinctures, and freshly pressed juice -- and can be used topically (applied directly to the skin). Echinacea is most commonly taken in supplement form, and sometimes is prepared in combination with Goldenseal, another herb widely renowned for its purported ability to support the immune system. Echinacea supplements are available in most drug, grocery and health food stores.
Echinacea is not acute acting, meaning that it may not provide you with any immediate effects and is not a one-dose treatment. In order to work effectively, Echinacea should be taken at the first signs of a cold. Make sure you follow the directions on the label about dosage and dosage intervals. There is general agreement that Echinacea is not an everyday supplement like a multivitamin. You should not use Echinacea daily for more than six to eight consecutive weeks; it is best to take periodic "breaks" of about two weeks to avoid over stimulation of the immune system.
Because of its potential ability to cut the chances of catching a cold, Echinacea plays a significant role in a comprehensive wellness regimen. Other practices for a healthy immune system include drinking lots of water, getting plenty of sleep, eating a wide variety of foods, especially fresh fruits and vegetables, and washing your hands with warm water and soap often.
The use of supplements, such as Echinacea, yields the best results when incorporated safely into your overall wellness regimen. It is important to share with your doctor or other healthcare professional information about the dietary supplements you are taking, so that he or she can best work with you to coordinate your care.