Day 136/365 - On Echinacea - what to look for in products



Today at herb school…(the start of a sentence you don’t hear every day, although you do on my blog)...we learned about echinacea! It’s an herb that’s so commonplace nowadays, yet far from everyone knows how to use it properly. It’s an herb that’s used acutely to mount a sufficient immune response to fight a threat or infection. It stimulates the innate immunity (increases phagocytes - natural killer cells and macrophages; enhances cytokine cascade) as well as detox via the lymph and elimination pathways. This mechanism of action makes it useful when someone is just starting to feel ‘under the weather’ - think mild lump in your throat, or feeling tired or sluggish. It can also be used as a first aid measure for insect and snake bites, both internally and topically on affected area (in tincture form).

The root is generally used, and the seed have good potency (though they are hard to get and concentrate), but the leaf and stem have only mild effects. When dried, the roots have good potency for about a year, and then rapidly start to decline. A way to test if it’s still viable is to taste it and if you feel a tingle on your tongue - it’s still good. The best way to preserve potency is by tincturing the fresh or dried root (or seed) with a high proof alcohol (pure, organic, grain preferred). I highly recommend either the Herbalist & Alchemist or Herb Pharm companies for good quality tinctures.

Another misconception about its use is the species: Echinacea purpurea or angustifolia. The latter (the name signifies that it has narrower leaves) is considered stronger, but only when it grows in its natural habitat (Midland, prairie states, Canada). Whenever it’s grown out of its usual environment, it doesn’t seem to have the same quality. In addition, the species is currently endangered so wildcrafting is discouraged.

For best results with echinacea, it should be taken immediately at onset of symptoms, to help boost immunity and fight infection. It’s a ‘high-dose’ herb, and should be taken by 2-3 dropperfuls of the tincture every few hours. When used properly, it can help evade illness altogether by nipping it in the bud from the start! It can also be taken after an illness has progressed and gone to help clear the blood via elimination pathways and the lymph.