With the end of winter cold-and-flu season now in sight, now is a good time both to be grateful for the bottle of echinacea tincture that stands ready to be used to boost our immune systems when we need it, and to look forward to seeing this year's new shoots emerging from dormancy in our echinacea permaculture bed.
Echinacea is mainly used to stimulate your immune system to fight off an infection. It's considered most effective in the early stages of infection, especially when you've been exposed to someone else's cold or flu but haven't yet developed symptoms yourself. But if you start taking it after your symptoms start, it might help shorten the duration or lessen the awfulness of your illness. In addition to it primary use against cold and flu, some people use echinacea to help combat other upper respiratory or urinary tract infections, or topically on wounds that are slow to heal.
Echinacea is best taken only when needed, and only for a few days. (After two or three days, your body apparently starts to ignore its "wake up" call to your immune system.) I like to use very small doses, about 1/4 dropperful of tincture, half a dozen times a day for a couple of days when I think I might be coming down with cold or flu. Others favor taking a full dropper or more just once or twice a day.
Several different species of echinacea are used medicinally. With some species it's best to use the root. Here on Hap Mountain, we grow echinacea purpurea and use its aerial parts, which in this species have quite a concentration of the medicinal constituents we're seeking. Next summer, try cutting into an echinacea purpurea flower and touching your tongue to its fleshy core. Wow! What a medicinal tingle!
The medicinal components of echinacea are soluble in water or alcohol, and can be derived from dried or fresh herb, although fresh is preferred. We use our echinacea purpurea to make a tincture with freshly harvested flowers and upper leaves in alcohol and water, which both extracts and preserves a diverse set of phytochemicals.
If you don't grow and process your own echinacea, please take care to buy from a reliable source. Independent testing indicates that MOST herbal products sold in U.S. stores either don't contain the herbs on their labels or are diluted or adulterated with other plant material.
Who should NOT use echinacea? If you're on any sort of medication intended to suppress your immune system (following an organ transplant, for example), echinacea is contraindicated. And please proceed with caution if you have an autoimmune disorder or are allergic to other members of the daisy family (asteracea). Europe's Commission E considers echinacea safe to use when pregnant or nursing.
Finally, please note that while we believe that this blog post accurately depicts how and why others have used echinacea, we cannot and do not warrant that anything we sell or write about is right for your specific circumstances. Please do your own research, and please consult your medical practitioner before taking herbs that might interfere with other treatments you've been prescribed.
What's been YOUR experience with echinacea? How and when do you use it? Please let us know!