The purple coneflower, a true garden beauty, tall and colorful, attracting an array of butterflies and other wildlife, has been a part of our native culture for centuries. I feel this pretty plant helped open the doors of natural medicine into mainstream awareness. It emerged as a strong player through the AIDS crises.
Name: Echinacea sps, purple coneflower
Where found: native to North America, found in the prairies west of Ohio. It’s a member of the Aster family. If you have any allergies to ragweed, marigolds, or daisies try in very small amounts or avoid. It grows from 2-3′ in height, great food for butterflies, moths. Echinacea purpura, Angustifolia, and purpura are the most common varieties used in herbal tinctures, teas, etc.
Parts used: When I first stepped in the study of herbalism many years ago, we talked about echinacea root. When you chew a piece of the root, it leaves a distinct almost numbing taste and quality which is a good way to ID plant. At that time, the root was used to make several types of herbal preparations including teas and tinctures. Later on, studies were done on the stems, leaves, flowers and they too contain the same properties as the root. Today, echinacea farms grow and harvest the entire plant for the herbal supplement industry.
Actions: Sioux, Cherokee, even Russia have tested and used this plant. In recent years this plant received much press from studies that show it does have some impact on our immune system functions, specifically raising white cells.
- From the NCCIH.gov:Taking echinacea after you catch a cold has not been shown to shorten the time that you’ll be sick.
- Taking echinacea while you’re well may slightly reduce your chances of catching a cold. However, the evidence on this point isn’t completely certain. Currently, the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) is funding research to identify the active constituents in echinacea and to study the effects on the human immune system of substances in bacteria that live within echinacea plants.
- WebMD states: ” Extracts of echinacea do seem to have an effect on the immune system, you’re body’s defense against germs. Research shows it increases the number of white cells, which fight infections. A review of more than a dozen studies, published in 2014, found the herbal remedy had a very slight benefit in preventing colds.
Uses: Teas, decoctions, tinctures. In older herbals, it was used to help rid the body of toxins. Dr, Mercola claims 10 benefits of echinacea, one of which may help shorten the duration of a cold. Studies are underway since the sales of herbal medicines have soared and cannot be ignored over OTC’s.
What’s the difference?
Each herb has its own unique collections of constituents that drive its action on a cellular level.
It seems echinacea exerts its influence on raising white cells which helps fight infection.
Elderberry exerts its influence in a variety of ways. …Dr. Maxwell Crispo, N.D. says: ” the antiviral activity of elderberry on influenza was strongest when used in pre-treatment, during infection and post-infection, rather than when used solely during infection. The study confirmed that elderberry exerts its antiviral activity on influenza through a number of mechanisms of action, including suppressing the entry of the virus into cells, modulating the post-infectious phase, and preventing viral transmission to other cells. Elderberry also upregulates IL-6, IL-8, and TNF, suggesting an indirect effect on viral immune response in the body.”
Also: “black elderberry extract has previously been shown to inhibit human influenza A (H1N1) infection in vitro by binding to H1N1 virions, thereby blocking the ability of the viruses to infect host cells.2 The same study showed elderberry to be effective against 10 strains of influenza virus and compared its effectiveness favorably to the known anti-influenza activities of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and amantadine.”
What to take? Recommendations are to use elderberry as a preventive, at the onset, and through the duration of a cold or flu. Echinacea may be more useful at the onset and for the duration, maybe even a week or 2 afterward. Both herbs come in a variety of ways. Teas provide nourishment, capsules, tinctures are more medicinal. Lozenges soothe.
- Read labels.
- Check botanical names.
- Buy organically grown.
- Use it wisely. If you need to see a physician always disclose which herbal preparations you include in your daily routine.
- There are preparations designed especially for children. I recommend you use those for these younger ages and not the ones designed for adults.
- Herbal medicine is slowly catching up in terms of research and well-conducted studies. It takes time. Remember both plants were effectively used long before double-blind studies became the sought after norm. Both plants have several uses but today they are gaining attention because of COVID-19. Can they help prevent this strain of flu? Too early to tell. But, like many others, I keep both plants in my home medicine chest. I worked in the health food industry for many years. Folks often related their success in terms of having a positive health response. Some didn’t. These are testimonials. But either way, both plants contribute a profound understanding of herbal medicine. My native elders would say: “whatever ails you, nature has the answer.” I hope you will take a walk today and look at the plants available with fresh eyes.
All comments are welcome. Enjoy your day. Judith