What is echinacea?
Also called purple coneflower, echinacea is a beautiful wildflower first used by Native Americans to treat a variety of ailments, from toothaches to snakebites. Today echinacea products line shelves everywhere from health food stores to supermarkets. back to top
What is it used for?
Most people use echinacea to try to stop a cold or flu in its tracks. In laboratory studies, the herb has been shown to boost the power of the immune system
and help prevent the growth of bacteria and viruses. When taken at the very first sign of a cold or flu, echinacea may shorten the length of an upper-respiratory
illness and lessen your symptoms. Some people even claim that echinacea, when taken early enough, can keep them from getting sick altogether. back to top
What's the best form to use?
Choosing an echinacea product can be confusing, as this herb comes in so many different forms, and the quality of herbal products varies widely. Many experts believe that the most powerful form of echinacea for combating a cold or flu is a liquid tincture
. Tincture is the herb mixed with alcohol or another liquid. It comes in a little bottle with a medicine dropper and can be taken straight or mixed with water or juice.
Your best bet when buying echinacea is probably to go to a health food store and ask for help. Say you're looking for a good-quality echinacea tincture that is 1 part echinacea to 5 parts alcohol, made primarily from the root of the plant. One way to tell whether the echinacea you buy is good is to test a drop or two on your tongue: it should produce a tingling, numbing sensation. back to top
How do I use it?
Studies suggest that echinacea is most effective when you start it as soon as possible after noticing symptoms of a cold or flu, such as a scratchy throat, runny nose, or body aches. A typical dose for adults (age 13 and older) is one dropperful of echinacea tincture (mixed into some warm water, juice, or tea) four times a day, starting at the onset of a cold and stopping when your symptoms subside. A typical dose for kids age 12 and younger is half that amount. Note that you should only take echinacea when you feel yourself getting sick, and you should stop taking it as soon as you start feeling better. Some people claim that taking echinacea every day will keep you from ever getting sick, but recent studies have shown that this is not true.
Avoid echinacea and goldenseal combinations. Goldenseal has not been proven to add to echinacea's benefits, and the goldenseal plant is becoming an endangered species. back to top
Echinacea is a distant cousin to ragweed and other members of the daisy family. If you have asthma or are allergic to ragweed, take echinacea cautiously. If you have itchy eyes and throat, sneezing, or an even runnier nose after taking echinacea, stop taking it right away.
Do not take echinacea if you have multiple sclerosis, AIDS, tuberculosis, leukemia, or an autoimmune disease
(such as lupus) because echinacea may make these conditions worse. Don't take echinacea if you are undergoing cancer treatment, as it may interfere with your treatment.
Start taking echinacea at the first sign of getting sick, and stop taking it as soon as you feel better. Using this herb for more than eight weeks at a time may decrease your body's ability to fight off illness.
The use of herbs is not recommended during pregnancy and breast-feeding except under the guidance of a health professional. back to top