Echinacea - Uses & Side Effects
Scientific Name(S): Echinacea angustifolia DC. The related species E. purpurea (L.) Moench and E. pallida (Nutt.) Britton have also been used in traditional medicine. Family: Compositae
Common Name(S): American coneflower, black susans, comb flower, echinacea, hedgehog, Indian head, Kansas snakeroot, narrow-leaved purple coneflower, purple coneflower, scurvy root, snakeroot
One of the most popular herbs in America today is the Native American medicinal plant known as echinacea. The herb is named for the prickly scales in its large conical seed head, which resemble the spines of an angry hedgehog ( echinos is Greek for hedgehog).
Botany: There are at least 9 species of echinacea. The ones most commonly studied are E. purpura, E. pallida, and E. angustifolia.
Echinacea is native to Kansas, Nebraska, and Missouri. There has been confusion regarding the identification of echinacea. Because of this confusion, it should be recognized that much of the early research conducted on this plant (in particular with European E. angustifolia ) was probably conducted on E. pallida. At least 6 synonyms have been documented for these plants.
E. angustifolia is a perennial herb with narrow leaves and a stout stem that grows to 90 cm in height. The plant terminates in a single, colorful flower head. The plant imparts a pungent, acrid taste when chewed and causes tingling of the lips and tongue.
Echinacea products have been found to be adulterated with another member of the family Compositae, Parthenium integrifolium L. This plant has no pharmacologic activity.
History: Echinacea is a popular herbal remedy in the central US, an area to which it is indigenous. The plant was used in traditional medicine by the American Indians and quickly adopted by the settlers. During the 1800s, claims for the curative properties of the plant ranged from a blood purifier to a treatment for dizziness and rattlesnake bites. During the early part of the 20th century, extracts of the plant were used as anti-infectives; however, the use of these products fell out of favor after the discovery of modern antibiotics.
The plant and its extracts continue to be used topically for wound-healing action and internally to stimulate the immune system. Most of the research during the past 10 years has focused on the immunostimulant properties of this plant.
Uses of Echinacea
There is some evidence that echinacea (purpurea and pallida species) is effective in shortening the duration of symptoms of URls, including the common cold, but it has not been shown to be effective as a preventative. The variation in available products makes specific recommendations difficult to determine.
Side Effects and Cautions
Dose of Echinacea
Variable doses and preparations were used in the studies that make specific dosing recommendations difficult. The dosing range for E. pallida root is 6 to 9 ml/day and E. purpurea leaf is approximately 900 mg/day. Because echinacea may be an immunostimulant, it should not be taken for more than 8 consecutive weeks. Usually 7 to 14 days is sufficient. However, there is no data to support or refute this theory.
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