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Echinacea is an antiviral herb that has been used in natural medicine for centuries. It is a brightly colored purple or pink flowering plant that, at first glance, you wouldn’t think has potent medicinal value.
What is Echinacea?
Echinacea is an immune-stimulating herbal medicine that has long been used to address common ills like the cold and flu. It is native to North America and has been used by North American indigenous people, most notably the Great Plains tribes, for hundreds of years. Its popularity has exploded recently as more has been learned about all of the benefits it has for human health.
Echinacea derives its medicinal power from many different compounds that it contains. Depending on the type of echinacea, sometimes the compounds are extracted from the whole plant, while in other types it is just the root that contains them. Some of the more widely studied active compounds in echinacea include phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid, caffeic acid, alkamides, and polyacetylenes. These compounds have immune-boosting properties that may also increase the body’s antioxidant status and help to reduce inflammation.
Health Benefits of Echinacea
- May support immune activity with prophylactic (preventive) use in some cases
- May be protective against the common cold
- May prevent secondary bacterial infections after an initial viral illness
- May accelerate the rate of recovery in certain types of illness
- May increase lymphocytes, leukocytes, monocytes, and neutrophils (white blood cells) that fight infections in the body
- May have anti-tumor activity potential
- Reduces inflammation
- May reduce pain associated with headache and sore throat
- May work as a natural remedy for constipation
- May have calming effects on the brain, reducing disturbances associated with ADHD, anxiety, and depression
- May help to reduce symptoms associated with sinus infections
- May promote oral health and reduce the incidence of gum disease
- May help to prevent recurring urinary tract infections
With all of the benefits of echinacea, it’s no wonder that it is one of the most common herbal supplements. Echinacea supplements typically come in two forms: as a tincture or as encapsulated powder. Echinacea has been overharvested in some areas, so look for products that have been sustainably harvested or collected.
The dosage of echinacea supplements depends largely on the form it is in and the reason it is being consumed—follow instructions on the product that you’re taking.
While echinacea has many benefits, there are also some potential side effects. The most common complaints include that taking too much may lead to nausea, feelings of faintness, diarrhea, and headaches. Because it is an immune stimulator, people who have autoimmune disorders should not take echinacea, as it can lead to increased antibody production and may worsen symptoms.
Echinacea can interact with other herbs, supplements, and medications, so it’s important to tell your healthcare practitioner what you are taking. People who are allergic to ragweed may also be sensitive to echinacea.
Today’s Simple Step
While not everyone needs to (or should) take echinacea or immune-boosting herbs, too often we can fall into the belief that immune support is something that is only done with medications or supplements. Supporting a healthy immune system relies first and foremost on a healthy diet that is rich in nutrients. But it also depends on your body getting enough sleep, being hydrated, and being able to properly digest food and absorb nutrients. Everything you do to support your body’s total well-being is also a direct way of supporting how your immune system functions.
This Coconut Curry Soup is a warming dish that is perfect for supporting your body’s natural ability to be healthy.