With all of the talk about the H1N1 flu that went on this past fall and winter, in addition to the usual news about the regular cold and flu season, a lot of people have been thinking about ways that they can stay healthy. In addition to the usual tips that your Mom probably told you about when you were little—wash your hands a lot, get enough sleep, eat well, etc., people seem to also be very interested in natural remedies that might also help them stay well. And for many, the herbal remedy echinacea is doing just that.
In case you haven’t heard of echinacea before, it is an herb that comes from the purple coneflower plant. Three versions: echinacea angustifolia, echinacea pallida, and echinacea purpurea are used in medicinal tinctures and tablets. Different parts of the plants are used in most herbal supplements.
Echinacea was used by Native Americans hundreds of years ago for treating several different health issues. In the United States, it began taking off in popularity in the medical community in the 1800s’s. By the early 1900’s, researchers and medical personnel in Germany began to use echinacea in their practices as well as in studies. During the last century, echinacea has definitely been more popular over in Europe but it’s becoming a pretty good seller over here as well.
The way the echinacea works to keep us healthy is pretty cool, really—it has been shown to work by stimulating our immune system cells that help fight infection. It always amazes me how we can take a certain herb and once it gets in our bodies it knows exactly where to go and what to do. From what I’ve read about echinacea, as well as my own personal experience taking it for at least 25 years, it really does seem to get into our systems and head straight for the immune system.
Echinacea also can help increase our cells’ production of interferon, which is a substance that fights viruses, and it may also work as an anti-inflammatory. In a really fascinating study, echinacea was found to work on cells differently, depending on what was going on with the particular cell.