Not only are echinacea benefits big news in the natural health community right now, they are BIG business. As reported by the American Botanical Council, “Sales of herbal dietary supplements in the United States increased by 7.9% in 2013, reaching six billion dollars for the first time!” This is the most dramatic boost since the late 1990s, and herbal sales have steadily climbed for the past 10 years straight.
And guess which herb has lead the pack? You guessed it, echinacea! Once known as an alternative way to prevent the common cold, now echinacea is quickly becoming known for multiple uses and benefits.
Outpacing the other herbs by a long shot, echinacea (Echinacea spp.) sales rose 95 percent (!!) in 2013, and it’s now a $28 million industry! Why the surging popularity in this magnificently attractive flower? Because echinacea benefits our health and well-being like few plants on the planet.
What is Echinacea?
Echinacea is a native North American coneflower that was discovered and used as a traditional herbal remedy for more than 400 years by the Great Plains Indian tribes. Technically classified as an herb, several species of the Echinacea plant are used to make medicine from its flowers, leaves and roots.
Prior to 1950 and the introduction of antibiotics, Echinacea held an esteemed medicinal status. As the health care industry shifted, antibiotics became the rage, and the now famed herb lost much of its esteem.
Most people don’t realize that the chemicals contained in the root differ significantly from those in the upper part of the plant. If we analyze the roots, we can see that they have high concentrations of volatile oils, while the parts that grow above the soil tend to contain more polysaccharides that are known to trigger immune function.
Many of Echinacea's chemical constituents are, in fact, powerful immune system stimulators and can provide a significant therapeutic value. A few that you’re probably familiar with are essential oils, flavonoids, inulin, polysaccharides and vitamin C.
The University of Maryland Medical Center also reports that the portion of the plant that grows above ground is the most effective. Interestingly, in Germany, dietary herbs are regulated by the government, and above ground parts of the Echinacea purpurea species are actually approved as natural remedies for urinary tract infections, upper respiratory tract infections, colds and slow-healing wounds.
1. Combats Cancer
Fascinating research about Echinacea benefits regarding brain cancer has been published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Stating that,
The medicinal value of phytochemicals contained in Echinacea is clearly evident and indicates that these agents, as well as phytochemicals not yet discovered in other herbs, may be valuable tools to combat tumors.
The use of Echinacea as another natural cancer treatment now being recommended, literally, “alongside — or indeed in place of — conventional therapy.”
2. Boosts the Immune System
Published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, the University of Connecticut performed a meta-analysis study that evaluated 14 studies and determined that:
- Echinacea cuts the chances of catching a common cold by 58 percent.
- Echinacea reduces the duration of the common cold by almost one-and-a-half days.
3. Alleviates Pain
Echinacea’s history began when echinacea purpurea was used by the Great Plains Indians as a painkiller. It’s especially effective for the following types of pain:
- Pain in the bowels
- Pain associated with headaches
- Pain associated with HSV (Herpes)
- Pain associated with gonorrhea
- Pain associated with measles
- Snake bites
- Sore throats
- Stomach ache
4. Functions as a Laxative
Like many herbs, echinacea is particularly healing for the stomach and entire gastrointestinal tract. According to Medical Herbalism, for example, echinacea can be used as a mild laxative to provide normal constipation relief and as a calming agent.
Arguably the number one killer worldwide, inflammation is at the root of most diseases. Various factors — including stress, toxins in our food and poor sleep — all contribute. Thankfully, as explained by the University of British Columbia, regular echinacea consumption can effectively reverse and alleviate various types of inflammation.
6. Improves Skin Problems
Echinacea benefits the skin superbly. In a paper prepared by Armando González Stuart, PhD, about herbal safety, it describes how echinacea has been used by various Native American tribes to treat: (13)
- Arthropod bites
- Inflammatory skin conditions
- Skin infections
- Wound healing
- It can also be used to regenerate skin.
7. Helps Improve Mental Health
Echinacea angustifolia is the recommended species to help with these specific ailments related to ADD/ADHD, and it can be considered one of the natural remedies for ADHD. Both adults and children suffering from ADD/ADHD have a higher-than-normal chance of experiencing emotional disturbances, especially:
- Social phobias
8. Relieves Upper Respiratory Issues
Because of its immune-boosting and anti-inflammatory effects, echinacea can be used to relieve the following upper respiratory symptoms:
- Acute sinusitis
- All flu’s
- Common cold
- Strep throat
- Whooping cough
9. Fights Infection
Echinacea is also a fantastic remedy for a whole slew of infections. According to the NIH, taking echinacea and applying a medicated cream to the skin can lower the rate of reoccurring vaginal infections by to 16 percent, compared to simply taking the medicine alone. It’s also known to help with:
- Bloodstream infections
- Genital herpes
- Gum disease
- Urinary tract infections
- Vaginal yeast infections