Echinacea is a most trusted herb for boosting immunity to colds, flu and viruses. A natural treatment for infections, wounds, burns, headaches and more, echinacea benefits are time-tested. Read on for information about when to use echinacea and for DIY echinacea recipes.
I just can’t help but think of echinacea when it comes to herbal remedies. It’s so inspiring to come across a large patch of the purple lovelies in the wild or on a prairie farm. Or in someone’s front yard. Echinacea has been a time-tested and trusted traditional herbal remedy since the days of North America’s earliest native denizens.
When it comes to boosting immunity, treating sore throats and keeping infections at bay, echinacea really performs.
But it does so much more.
Echinacea is a member of the daisy (Asteraceae) family and there are two varieties used for medicinal purposes, Echinacea Purpurea and Echinacea Angustifolia. They are also known as Eastern Purple Coneflower.
Growing on tall single stalks that reach three to four feet tall, echinacea certainly resembles a daisy. The main difference is that echinacea’s pinkish to purple petals tend to droop downward, accenting its large central seed cone.
Echinacea was a favorite of Native Americans long before Europeans populated the east coast of what was then known as Great Turtle Island. The settlers gradually moved westward, and Native Americans introduced the early settlers to the medicinal value of these flowers.
Despite seeing echinacea benefits in action, it took some time before the settlers widely accepted it as a viable medicinal treatment.
It was not until about the year 1880, that echinacea eventually became a starring feature in colonial American medical practice. In those times, the flowers of both medicinal Echinacea Purpurea and Echinacea Angustifolia grew abundantly in the wilds of North America. Once it became accepted as an immune boosting herbal remedy, the flowers were exported to Europe in vast quantities.
Today, echinacea is so widely trusted and used for colds and flu treatment in the USA that it must be cultivated to fulfill the need. It is also very popular in Europe where it continues to be cultivated as well.
Some examples (not all, for sure!) of various Native Americans usage of echinacea are:
- Coughs and sore throat – internal use (Plains Tribes)
- Treating wounds – topical use, healing of infection, internal (All Tribes)
- Treating skin rashes, eczema – topical (Plains Tribes)
- Treating poisonous snake bites – internal and topical (Pawnee)
- Toothache – chewing on roots to numb mouth (Ponca)
- Burns – topical to relieve pain (Northern Cheyenne)
- Headache – smoke vapor (Kiowa, Plains Tribes)
- Sepsis – internal and topical (Upper Missouri Tribes)
- Syphilis – internal (Lakota)
Using and Growing Echinacea
The entire plant – flower heads, petals, leaves and stems all have immune-boosting properties, although the roots are the most useful for immune protection.
Both varieties, Echinacea Purpurea and Echinacea Angustifolia, have healing properties, and both are often combined in commercially sold preparations of echinacea. For the purposes in this article, I (this author) will use the word “echinacea” when referring to medicinal echinacea.
There are numerous other colorful varieties of echinacea, including new ones hybridized for color (and they look beautiful!) from white to pale pink to bright yellows, hot pinks and oranges. Great for your garden, but none of these are useful for medicinal purposes.
If you plan on growing echinacea for your own medicinal use, just make sure that you purchase the purple varieties (Echinacea Purpurea and Echinacea Angustifolia). And do purchase organic seeds, if possible. You should also confirm that the area you plan on cultivating is free from previous use of fertilizers, pesticides and chemical blow-over from other gardens or farms.
Echinacea flowers add some sweetness and beauty to your garden, and you can use the leaves and flower buds in summer to make tinctures or teas. If you save the roots, you can use them when winter comes along.
Echinacea purpura is more easily grown in the eastern USA. Echinacea angustifolia is more native to the central region, preferring the drier climate in that area.
Next we will discuss echinacea benefits for immune-boosting and then I will list the other important echinacea benefits.
Modern scientists regularly try to dissect echinacea to discover which active ingredient is responsible for its immune system enhancing properties. But so far, no one has been able to name one specific component that does the work. It’s the whole complex plant synergy that is responsible for its effectiveness.
When to Use Echinacea
Echinacea works as an immunomodulator, enhancing the number of white blood cells in the body and directing them to a site of infection.
Because it stimulates the immune system to fight infection and aids in recovery, it should only be used when you need it.
Do not use echinacea on a regular basis as a preventative.
Echinacea is a proven powerful remedy to fight viral infections, particularly upper respiratory infections.
Did you know that most common colds are caused by several different viruses?
You know you’re coming down with something when you get that initial little twinge-y, tingly heavy feeling. You might not even be sure if you just have a common cold or if you have the flu. Influenza differs from the common cold because it is accompanied by its signature high fever.
The best time to start taking echinacea is when you feel the very first inkling that you’re coming down with something.
With the common cold, echinacea benefits include relieviing sore throats, coughs and accompanying aches. Taking echinacea can also shorten the length of time that you experience those uncomfortable symptoms.
In the case of influenza (flu), echinacea is super effective, and acts by strengthening the number and action of white blood cells. Plus, it also functions as an anti-inflammatory agent.
Taking echinacea is proven to inhibit the severity of viral symptoms and shorten the time line of infection. By doing so, it prevents the worst case infection scenario and strengthens the immune system against further recurrences.
Echinacea also successfully kills off the MERS and SARS Coronaviruses and its strong anti-viral properties treat the Herpes Simplex virus.
Echinacea is used to fight bacterial infections like strep throat, staph infections, bacterial acne, urinary infections and Candida yeast infections.
It also successfully treats serious bacterial pneumonia, like Legionnaire’s disease. Additionally, echinacea works super well for co-infections; that is, viral and bacterial infections at the same time.
Infections caused by bacteria (as well as viruses) can result in cell damage and can cause a hyper-reactive anti-inflammatory response known as a “cytokine storm.” Cytokine storms release an over-abundance of kinetic molecules (cytokines) to fight an infection.
Cytokines are necessary to fight infection, however, they are dangerous when produced in excess amounts. At the least, surviving a cytokine storm could result in post- event chronic inflammation. In the worst case scenario, a cytokine storm overwhelms the body, causing multiple organ failure or even death.
Echinacea is very effective in counteracting cytokine storms by dismantling viruses and bacteria before the body creates an over-response.
Antiseptic and Antimicrobial Properties
Numerous Native American tribes used echinacea successfully to treat wounds and cuts. Its antiseptic action is capable of killing a variety of microorganisms that keep wounds from healing.
Echinacea speeds up the healing process by promoting cellular regeneration. Its anti-inflammatory properties also help to ease swelling at the wound site, while its analgesic actions reduce pain.
Taking Echinacea as a Home Remedy
As mentioned above, the best time to take echinacea is when you experience the first onset of cold or flu symptoms. If you have not made your own remedies, you can purchase echinacea capsules ✓, echinacea extract ✓and echinacea tea ✓.
As with all herbal remedies, the strength of the herbal matter may vary slightly from brand to brand. You may find that one works better than another.
Here are a few DIY recipe ideas for making remedies from dried echinacea to reap the super-effective echinacea benefits:
1. Make an infusion (tea) from dried roots steeped in boiled water
Boil water and make a tea by placing echinacea herb in the boiled water, steep, then strain. It doesn’t taste fantastic – kind of earthy – so add a little honey after the tea is cooled – avoid putting the honey into boiling hot tea. (If you’d like to read more about honey, check out our article describing the history of honey and its incredible varied health benefits, which also mentions why not to use it in cooking.)
2. Make a tincture from dried echinacea leaves and roots
I love making tinctures! This is basically the same idea as making your own vanilla extract with dried vanilla beans… have you done that? If so, then this will be easy!
The basic idea is to soak dried herb in alcohol until the alcohol is well infused with herb. You’ll have to prepare ahead for this… it takes at least 1.5 to 3 months to get a nice strong tincture. If you don’t have echinacea from your own garden, you can purchase bulk dried echinacea herb ✓online.
First you’ll want to pulse the herb in a blender, if it is not already in uniformly small pieces.
Place in a sterilized wide mouth jar and cover with alcohol… I normally use vodka; 80 proof is fine.
Make sure the herb is well covered and give it a good swish. Place the jar out of sunlight in a cool area and give it a shake every so often. After several weeks, the tincture will be ready to bottle. You can strain out some of the tincture and put into little dropper bottles (easier to dispense that way). Leave the remaining tincture in the jar to continue steeping.
When taking echinacea tincture for colds, you’ll probably want to mix it with water or juice to soften the taste. It’s certainly not the worst I’ve ever had, but it’s not that tasty either! Especially for children, mixing with a little bit of juice will help them get it down more easily.
3. Make a salve for cuts, stings and wounds
You can make a wonderful wound salve really easily. There are many variations and you can get as detailed as you want.
First, you’ll want to start by infusing some oil with your echinacea.
Take a clean wide mouth jar and fill it about 2/3 full with echinacea dry herb. (approx. 2/3 cups of herb total) You can add additional healing herbs to this mixture if you want, like St. John’s Wort, plaintain and comfrey, among others (1 tablespoon of each additional herb).
Cover the herbs in oil… about 1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups of oil . Many DIY-ers use olive oil for homemade salve, which is a great oil to use. Personally, I prefer coconut oil for its healing properties and it seems more “neutral” to me. It also smells fantastic. You can let the herb/oil mix sit in a dry, dark place and shake every so often for 3-4 weeks.
Next, you will want to strain out the herb (using cheesecloth, or other fine mesh cloth) and now you have beautiful, herb-infused oil!
Or, if you want the salve more quickly, you can do a simmer method. Put the herbs and oil in double boiler and slowly simmer for up to 1 hour. This will infuse the oil in just a short time.
If you have time, I always prefer the slow method to get the best infusion.
To make a salve with your herb-infused oil, now all you have to do is melt some beeswax pieces (1-2 ounces) into the oil on low heat. You should have around a cup of oil after herbs are strained out.
As soon as the beeswax is melted you can add a few additional drops of essential oils (lavender, eucalyptus, lemon balm, or others of your choice). You can also add a teaspoon of vitamin E oil as a natural preservative, but that is not absolutely necessary.
The amount of beeswax you’ll need may vary, so add about 1 ounce and do a test by placing a dab of it on a little plate and putting aside (or in the fridge, if you’re in a hurry). If it does not set up, add more beeswax. Less is better to start with in this case, so go slowly. You can always add more to get the exact consistency you like, but you are limited by the amount of infused echinacea oil you have on hand. You don’t want to over-harden your salve preparation with too much beeswax.
Of course, if that happens, you can always add in a little plain coconut or olive oil to get the salve back to a spreadable state.
Even Quicker Fix
If you want a salve in a hurry, just melt some beeswax on the stove in a small pan/pot on low heat and as soon as it’s melted, add about 25 drops of echinacea essential oil to it. You can buy ready-made echinacea essential oil, plus any of the essential oils mentioned above, some vitamin E oil and you’re all set.
Now, put your salve in a pretty little tin or a glass jar and you are ready for the next bug bite, sting, rash, or whatever!
4. Make a throat spray
You can take either echinacea tea or tincture and mix with water and put in a little spray bottle and spray it down the inside of your throat when you have a sore throat.
You’ll get a nicely tingly feeling with is great for soothing the throat while helping it to heal…
Now you can see why echinacea is a trusted herbal remedy for flu and colds!
It’s always a good idea to have some echinacea extract and salve on hand because you never know when you might need it. At least, keep some of the dried herb around and you can always make a DIY remedy.
For those with a history of asthma or allergies to the daisy family: as noted above, echinacea is a member of this plant family and should be used with caution or avoided entirely, depending on your personal situation.
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