What is Echinacea?
By Tash Hughes of
Echinacea is a plant native to Eastern USA. The name
Echinacea is derived from the Greek word echinos meaning
hedgehog – this relates to the spiky centre of each
are 9 different species of the plant, although Echinacea
purpurea is the easiest to grow and therefore the most
Like full sun or light shade in hot climates
Grow in poor and dry soils
Flower in mid-summer to early autumn
Are grown in many parts of the world now
Are about 60 -120 cm tall and 45 – 50 cm wide
The flowers are on long stems which usually don’t
Are related to the Daisy family
Grow from a thick, black root.
Echinacea was used by the native Americans for many
years. One of the key uses they had was for treating
snake bites, so Echinacea is also known as snake root.
They also used it for treating insect bites, smallpox,
sore throats, measles and toothache.
During the 1800s, European settlers also began to use
Echinacea medicinally. This continued until the use of
antibiotics became widespread as the ‘cure anything’
drug. Echinacea has become popular again as a herbal
treatment in the last 20 or so years.
of the Echinacea species are generally used for
medicinal purposes, largely because they are easier to
cultivate. The medicines can be derived form the root or
the above ground parts of the plant, depending on the
Echinacea can be used as an extract, juice or dried.
with many herbal or alternative health treatments, there
are differing views as to the benefits of Echinacea.
Many studies have been carried out but have shown
different results; comparisons of these studies is
complicated, however, by the use of different species
and different forms of the medicine on the same medical
the whole, medical practitioners don’t recommend or
prescribe Echinacea due to a lack of clear evidence, but
they also don’t object to its use.
Echinacea has been used to:
Treat upper respiratory infections, including colds
Treat urinary tract infections (only anecdotal
evidence to support this use)
Activate or boost the immune system (most current
research is focussing on this potential)
Act as an antibiotic
Act as an antiviral agent against flu and herpes
Stimulate wound healing
Benefits skin conditions such as eczema, burns,
insect bites, ulcers and acne
Reduce inflammation associated with arthritis and
Treat CFS, indigestion, gastro and weight loss as a
Effects and the like
the moment, no one knows exactly what is in Echinacea
that makes it useful medicinally. This means that there
are no standards for commercial Echinacea products, so
each brand you try could have different results for the
Anyone allergic to daisies and those taking itraconazole,
fexafenacline and lovastatin may experience reactions so
probably should avoid taking Echinacea.
all adverse reactions to alternative therapies in
Australia, about 10% involve Echinacea, with about half
of them being allergic reactions. With about 200 million
doses of Echinacea being used in Australia annually,
that’s about 20,000,000 reactions a year!
than allergies, other side effects appear to be either
minor or rare. However, there are some research results
which indicate the side effects are more significant.
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