Benefits of Echinacea:
it stops a cold
when used right
What do we know about the benefits of echinacea? It is one of the most popular herbal medications around the world. It has an enormous market presence in health food stores in the US, and it often makes headlines, usually when another scientific article is published which contradicts the most recent set of other studies. But does it work?
Yes, echinacea works. I can say that with absolute integrity with my medical license on the line. I no longer doubt the benefits of echinacea, from my own professional and personal experience. But it does not work for everything, there are some forms of the herb which are not very effective, and there are some people who should not take echinacea at all.
Let’s start with the good news. Of all the potential benefits of echinacea, its best use is to treat a viral respiratory infection (a cold) in its beginning stage. When you take a high dose of echinacea at the very first sign of sore throat or cold symptoms and take it often for 2 days straight, you will not likely have a cold by the third day. One of the reasons I like this herbal medication for this use is that nothing in conventional medicine, such as antibiotics or immunizations, will do the same thing at all.
And now the specifics about type of herb and doses. The species of echinacea matters. Look for Echinacea purpurea, not echinacea angustafolia. E. purpurea is one of many native American herbal remedies, a species also known as the purple coneflower, and it’s actually lovely in your flower garden. Then read the label and look specifically for a preparation made from the aerial parts of the plant (leaves and flowers), not the roots. Or look for “echinacea herb,” instead of “echinacea root.” If you are taking a powdered extract in a capsule, a minimum dose would be 300 mg 4 times daily (for over age 12), but only taken for 3 days maximum.
Do not take echinacea longer than 3 days, as its immune stimulating effect wears off after that. It does not seem to work as a preventive medicine, so there is no rationale for taking it all winter to prevent colds.
And if you have an auto-immune disease such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, you should not take echinacea at all, since it can aggravate the self-directed immune tissue damage.
What about other forms of echinacea? You can find echinacea tea (in bags), either alone or more likely in combination with other herbs, but it is not as effective as other forms because many of the most active components of the herbal medication are not soluble in water.Personally, I prefer echinacea tincture (alcohol based liquid extract) and make my own in batches. The advantage of making my own tincture is that I have a reputable supplier of bulk dried echinacea herb, and I have complete control over the quality of the product and its concentration. It is very potent and effective when started on the first day of symptoms. The alcohol based tincture has quite a “kick”, but I don’t mind it for 2 days, knowing I will feel well again and stop the herbal medication on day three.
And now that you know the real benefits of echinacea, what type of herb, and how much and how often to take it, you don’t have to be upset the next time you see a news headline saying echinacea doesn’t work. You can say, “I’m not surprised… they would have had better luck if they had used it right!”
To your health and wellness,
Robert Pendergrast, MD