- Native to North America, Echinacea purpurea belongs to the sunflower family and is praised for its many health benefits.
- Its active ingredients have been found to strengthen the immune system, and are recommended to prevent and treat the common cold.
- Available from most pharmacies, Echinacea extracts are generally formulated by pharmaceutical manufactures as pills or capsules.
- We dedicate August’s plant of the month feature to Echinacea purpurea, the flower on everyone’s lips when temperatures drop and the cold lurks on every corner, or when stress takes its toll on the body’s defences.
Already a regular on the shelves of pharmacies, Echinacea has become an increasingly frequent topic of conversation during the fall months, and it is not infrequent to hear people recommend it to keep colds away or to boost the body's defences during high stress periods, when the body is more vulnerable to virus and bacteria. Here's an in depth look at Echinacea, its origin, its benefits, how to use it and where to find it.
The Echinacea genus is comprised of a myriad of varieties, the most widespread being Echinacea purpurea L., a perennial belonging to the Asteraceae family, the same of sunflowers and daisies. In fact, the central disk of Echinacea flowers, where pollen is produced, reminds a lot of sunflowers. Composed of narrow petals, these stand on long stems that can reach one metre in height. Echinacea flowers generally in mid-summer, staying in bloom for ninety days.
Echinacea is thought to originate from North America, more specifically from the area now occupied by the state of Texas. It grows in open areas with dry climates and was used as a remedy for wounds by native Americans, who aware of the plant's healing properties, used to apply it directly onto the skin. Introduced in Europe in 1930, it is now widespread throughout the world.
As proven by numerous clinical studies, there are a number of benefits to using Echinacea purpurea, the most generally accepted being immune protection and cold prevention. According to the information leaflet of Echinamed, an Echinacea-based medicinal product, Echinacea has immunomodulatory functions, which in layman's terms means it has the ability to boost the immune system.
This is also the view of the European Medicines Agency, which says Echinacea tablets are effective in preventing and treating the symptoms of cold, and cites relevant studies in adults proving the efficacy and safety of the plant's extracts.
Likewise, a research conducted between 2016 and 2017 by A. Vogel – a manufacturer of Echinacea-derived products – found that the plant's extracts work safely also in children. According to an article published in the journal Correo Farmacéutico, "using a child-friendly formulation, Echinacea extracts have been found to successfully reduce respiratory tract infections and associated complications, reducing the use of antibiotics by nearly 73%."
How to use Echinacea
Echinacea is mostly available in the form of liquid tinctures extracted using alcohol and as solid tablets made from the roots and the aerial parts of the plant. These are generally lab formulated and can be purchased from most pharmacies and health food shops.
Study Safety and Efficacy Profile of Echinacea purpurea to Prevent Common Cold Episodes
Medicine information leaflets obtained from the Spanish Agency of Medicines and Medical Devices (AEMPS)