If you have performed research online for natural antiviral supplements you probably came across information on Echinacea. You may not be aware that the supplements you can purchase in health food stores and online contain parts of the purple coneflower. In this article, I’m going to cover which parts of the plant are used and how they can benefit your health.
What Is Echinacea?
The plant known as Echinacea purpurea is commonly known as the purple coneflower. The purple coneflower is in the Asteraceae family along with daisies and a number of other flowering plants. The name Echinacea derives from the Greek word echino, which translates to hedgehog. This is because the central cone of the flower resembles a hedgehog.
Purple coneflowers are easy to spot along the roadsides and in pastures this time of year as they bloom in late spring and through the summer. They are perennial flowers and may survive 5-6 years in the wild. They do not have a discernible scent when they begin flowering. However, as the petals turn down they begin to exude a scent similar to honey to attract pollinating insects. After pollination, they begin to exude a sweet scent similar to vanilla.
There are a few distinct species of coneflower, and they are native to the central and eastern U.S. I see both purple and yellow coneflowers in our little corner of the Ozarks.
These plants have been used by Native Americans since before colonists arrived on the continent. The native peoples noticed that wild animals would eat the coneflowers and would be healed. So they began using it for medicinal purposes to treat such things as snake bites, open wounds, fevers, toothache, and sore throat.
Modern scientific studies have proven that what the native people knew about this plant has a basis in science.
Medicinal Uses Of Purple Coneflower
By studying the plant scientists discovered that the parts of the plant above ground contain different naturally occurring chemicals than the roots. So this means different parts of the plant are used for different purposes in herbal medicine. The roots contain more volatile oils while the leaves and petals contain more polysaccharides, which have a stimulating effect on the immune system. It is those parts that are normally found in the tinctures and capsules that are sold as herbal supplements. The extracts from these parts of the plant have been found to have anti-inflammatory and germ-killing effects.
Here are some of the benefits of Echinacea
Prevent colds and flu- One of the main uses of the tinctures and capsules sold as supplements are used to boost the immune system and help you to prevent catching a cold or the flu. An analysis of 14 studies indicated that using Echinacea supplements can decrease your chances of catching a cold or the flu by up to 58%. Studies also indicate that if you start taking it right away, it may significantly decrease the length of the illness by as much as a day and a half.
May Help As A Treatment For Pain- A study published in 2010 found that “the interaction of alkamides with CB receptors may help explain the traditional use of Echinacea in phytotherapy for wound healing, pain relief, and alleviation of cold symptoms”. The CB receptors mentioned are the cannabinoid receptors which are also targeted by CBD oil. This may explain why the extracts are effective for pain relief. Some of the traditional uses in which Echinacea has been found to be effective in relieving include:
- Snake Bite
- Sore Throat/Tonsillitis
- Stomach and Bowel Pain
- Pain Associated With Herpes/Gonorrhea
Digestive Health- Besides relieving stomach and bowel pain it acts as a mild laxative that can help with constipation. It can also provide a calming effect on the entire digestive system.
Anti-inflammatory- As more research is done it is more and more clear that inflammation plays a key role in many disease processes in our bodies. Finding ways to treat inflammation is a huge topic in medical research. Many natural anti-inflammatory agents are being studied to assess their effects on inflammation and the disease processes behind them. Echinacea contains natural anti-inflammatory constituents that make it an effective anti-inflammatory.
Good For Your Skin- A study published in 2010 looked at cream and gel used by dermatologists which contain Echinacea purpurea extract. It found that the medications containing the extract were effective in increasing the hydration of the skin and decreasing wrinkles. If you are looking for a natural way to hydrate your skin and decrease fine lines and wrinkles, you may want to look at these. My choice and what I believe to be a better option is to make your own skin cream using wild gathered leaves and petals. I’ll add the steps to making it at the bottom of the page.
May Help With Asthma & Upper Respiratory Infections- a 2015 study showed that the extract from Echinacea purpurea had similar bronchodilator effects as Salmeterol. It also had comparable anti-inflammatory effects to the anti-inflammatory drug Budesonide. The study authors concluded that “studies have confirmed significant bronchodilator and anti-inflammatory effects of Echinacea complex that was similar to effects of classic synthetic drugs. Thus, results provide a scientific basis for the application of this herb in traditional medicine as a supplementary treatment of allergic disorders of the airways, such as asthma”. As a respiratory therapist, I find these conclusions particularly interesting.
How To Use Purple Coneflower
You can buy the extract from purple coneflower, but they tend to be expensive. I prefer to make my own herbal medicines. If you decide to do this for yourself, be sure you know the cautions when using any herbal medicines.
While it is considered generally safe there are a few precautions with using Echinacea. Those who have an allergy to flowers in the daisy family should not use this. Those who have autoimmune disorders likewise should not use this plant, since it stimulates the immune system.
You can make a tincture from the leaves and flower petals. Gather enough leaves and petals to fill whatever size jar you will be using. The larger the jar, the more petals, leaves, and alcohol you will need. I usually make tinctures in quart jars. Just be aware that a significant portion of the space in the jar is taken up by plant material so the resulting volume of tincture you will get is nowhere near 1 quart. I purchase small tincture bottles with droppers online to store and measure the tincture for use.
Since a tincture is simply an alcohol extraction of the plant material you want to purchase some mid-quality vodka at around 80 proof for the tincture. Remember, you will be using drops of this stuff in your mouth, so if it tastes nasty you probably won’t want to use it.
Now you just need to tear the leaves into small pieces or use a food processor to break down the leaves and place them into the jar. You can use the flower petals whole. Press them down and fill the jar but leave some headspace for stirring.
Now pour your vodka over the plant material and make sure it is completely covered by the alcohol. Now use a small piece of plastic food wrap to place over the jar opening and place the lid on the jar. The plastic wrap prevents the alcohol from breaking down the lining of the lid.
Then place the tincture in a cool, dark cabinet and stir occasionally when you think about it. Leave it there for 6-8 weeks. At the end of this period use a fine mesh screen or cloth to strain the liquid. Be sure and squeeze all the juice you can out of the plant material. Now you can store your tincture for use. It should be effective up to a year after you bottle it. You should also be sure and label the bottle with the contents and date bottled.
My Favorite Use
I tend to like to make infused oils, especially when they can be used to make salves that help with skin conditions. This is especially useful as the weather warms and the ticks, biting flies, mosquitos, wasps, and bees become active.
If you want to know how to make infused oils refer to this article. The process and materials you need are exactly the same for most herbal-infused oils.
Since this purple coneflower infused oil is both pain-relieving and anti-inflammatory it can be used on wounds, stings, and other painful skin conditions. As stated before it can also be used to hydrate the skin and diminish wrinkles. Let me say if I were going to use it on my face I would use a lighter carrier oil when making the infused oil. Something like grapeseed oil would be a better choice because it absorbs faster and is less greasy.
Once the oil is infused you can follow the same procedure in the article listed above to make a salve with beeswax and shea butter.
Now that you know all the benefits of echinacea you may want to try making a tincture or infused oil to use at home. If you aren’t the DIY type you can always pick some up online or the next time you visit the pharmacy or supplement aisle at the supermarket.
For more information about other wild medicinal plants and essential oils, you can visit our list of articles.
Disclaimer: This article should not be construed as medical advice. The health information in this article is not intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise a cure for any medical condition. Consult with your health care professional before considering any natural supplement or plant remedy for your health and wellness. We assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet, or using manufactured or natural medications.