The Healing Properties Of Echinacea Purpura

By Heather Caruso RNCP/ROHP, Hom

     Echinacea purpura (EP) is a native plant that is a member of the sunflower family that grows quite nicely in gardens all around North America. It has showy fuchsia pink blooms and tends to bloom in late summer until fall. As a herb it has many medicinal benefits. It is best known as an immune stimulant. It doesn’t act as an antibiotic but it stimulates white blood cells to work better in order to fight infection. Herbal books mention its ability to activate macrophages, an immune system cell, to eat up or attack bacteria, viruses and other infectious agents, even cancer cells. It has been used in cancer studies with good success as well, in particular colorectal cancer and liver cancer. EP also increases natural killer cells, NK cells, that are an active immune cell that helps reduce cancerous cells in the body. In chemotherapy it can help increase white blood cells when they drop during treatment.

     EP is often used in cold and flu herbal preparations. It not only helps cold and flu but research shows that it can be beneficial in coughs, ear infections and strep throat. In ear infections, EP is usually best when used in combination with goldenseal. It has been found to reduce the incidence of colds by one and a half days. Some researchers have found it to be useful in cases of lyme disease because of its effect on NK cells. It is best to take EP at the first sign of cold and other viruses because it often is not as effective when the virus has set in and symptoms are severe. It is best to take a higher dose of EP at the beginning of an infection. After a period of seven days EP is not as useful to keep taking. In fact, it initially gives an immune boost but doesn’t seem to help by increasing immunity more so by taking it longer. Typically in the clinic, we would recommend taking EP two weeks on and two weeks off.

     The Great Plains Indians found EP to be a great pain reliever. They used it for a variety of pains such as in cases of bowel inflammation, herpes, measles and gonorrhea infections, headaches, snakebites, tonsillitis, tooth and stomach aches. EP has benefit in cellulitis as well because it helps to purify the blood and stimulate the immune system to kill any bad bacteria in the blood stream.

     Some say a cup of Echinacea tea is helpful for constipation but there are better herbs to keep the bowels moving. It is also known to help speed healing and reduces inflammation in skin diseases. Some research has found that it helps with a parasitic infection called leishmaniosis, that causes disfiguring skin symptoms. EP has some benefit in boils, acne and infected nails since it helps to speed healing and reduce inflammation. According to “The Prescription for Herbal Healing” by Phyllis A. Balch, 1 tsp of EP juice is thought to have the same benefit as 100 mgs of cortisone. In the clinic, we use it in a blend to help treat inflammatory skin conditions such as in eczema, psoriasis and acne rosacea. A study published in the Journal of Dermatological Science, in May 2017, found that EP was very helpful in treating people with atopic eczema. It helped to speed healing and reduced symptoms when used both internally and externally in a cream form.

     Used in a mouth rinse, EP has great benefit in treating mouth and gum infections and speeding healing in mouth ulcers. It has also found to be beneficial in candida, thrush and other fungal infections and as well in some types of urinary tract infections.

     EP tends to deplete vitamin E, so if you want to take it for the long term, take a vitamin E supplement as well. Do not use EP if you have had an organ transplant or an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis or lupus for example because it stimulates the immune system. Studies have shown EP is not safe during pregnancy or when breastfeeding. It also may interfere with certain medications, so be sure to check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking it. Also EP may be irritating to those who suffer from ragweed or sunflower allergies because it comes from the same family of plants.

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