Echinacea is popping up everywhere these days, and for good reason. Well known to support the immune system, you can find it in everything from cough drops to multivitamins. Yet, what is all the buzz really about? Is there more to echinacea than meets the eye? Certainly, a plant with a reputation such as this must have some pretty remarkable qualities that have kept it in the spotlight all of these years. Now, more than ever, people are keeping it close and relying on it to promote well-being.
What Is Echinacea?
Echinacea is a group of beautiful flowering plants that are also called coneflowers. There are many species, but most herbal supplements stick to the top three varieties — Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida. It is often argued which is the better species, but all have distinct benefits. The entire plant can be used, but supplements often will contain just the root or just the aerial parts: the leaf, flower, and stem combined.
This plant has been known and cherished by the Indigenous people of North America throughout the ages. It gained widespread popularity in the 1980s, and this excitement and mass consumption nearly wiped out the plant from the overharvesting of wild populations. Now the plant is farmed all over the world and continues to be highly esteemed for all of the health benefits it provides.
Potential Health Benefits of Echinacea
1. Supports the Immune System
Echinacea is known across the globe for immune system benefits, but does anyone ever stop and wonder why? This is a puzzle that scientists have been trying to solve for many years. The interesting thing is that although they can take apart the molecules and analyze them, none of them on their own are as powerful as the whole plant extract. So even though we know it is rich in immune-supportive polysaccharides and unique compounds called alkamides, the plant still holds some mystery at how these components work together to produce such potent immune system benefits.
Even more, many people disagree on the best way to use echinacea. Should it be used every day as a preventative measure? Or is it better to take at the onset of those occasional sniffles? The answer may never be entirely clear, as there is a bit of benefit to both strategies depending on what you need from the echinacea. For the most part, many herbalists would recommend waiting to use it when you really need it, but there are some long-term benefits that can be acquired from ongoing use.
2. May Support Healthy Blood Sugar Levels
This probably isn’t a common reason that people reach for echinacea, but there is some research to support that echinacea may help to maintain healthy blood sugar levels. This is thought to be caused by two main actions provided by the plant. Special antioxidants, including caffeic acid, stop certain enzymes from breaking down some kinds of sugary molecules. It also contains a type of alkamide that seems to affect the way glucose is taken up by the body. Who knew that echinacea had so many possibilities!
3. May Encourage Feelings of Wellbeing
When everyday stress gets the best of you, echinacea might be able to help. Although not a typical use for this plant, it may promote feelings of calmness and have some uplifting effects. A double-blind, placebo-controlled study showed that a standardized echinacea extract helped participants score better on criteria used to monitor factors concerning mental health.
4. May Promote Healthy Skin
Echinacea has a tradition of being used to benefit the skin in a lot of different ways. It promotes strength in the outer layers of the epidermis and can help the skin retain moisture. These benefits might stem from its ability to reduce the levels of daily oxidative stress put on the skin. Because of its purifying properties, echinacea can also help reduce occurrences of uneven skin and is useful for all kinds of everyday skin issues. For these benefits, echinacea is best applied directly to the skin. Often as a cream or gel, preparations with echinacea extracts have a multitude of benefits for keeping skin healthy.
5. Echinacea Is High in Antioxidants
Beyond all of these amazing benefits, echinacea is incredibly high in antioxidants. In fact, a lot of the health benefits are likely due to the high levels of unique antioxidants in these plants. As mentioned before, it produces caffeic acid and other related compounds that are very potent antioxidants. Echinacea also contains a spectrum of flavonoids, including rutin and nicotiflorin, which also have antioxidant properties. These compounds are thought to protect the plant from different environmental and pest-related threats, which may protect the human body from seasonal threats as well.
Potential Side Effects of Echinacea
Echinacea is generally a very safe herb and is not commonly associated with side effects, however, some people may need to be cautious before trying an echinacea supplement.
There are a few things to look out for or discuss with your doctor before trying echinacea.
♦ May cause mild upset stomach or nausea
♦ May interact with some medications
♦ May be contraindicated in people with autoimmune disorders
♦ May cause allergic reactions in people sensitive to the asteraceae plant family, which can sometimes be avoided by consuming the root rather than the flowering tops
The dosage of echinacea depends on which plant species you are using and which part of the plant is included. Unless you are working with an herbalist or have time to do some research, it is best to follow the recommended amount on the bottle of whatever echinacea product you are using. It is often suggested to take several smaller doses throughout the day rather than a larger amount once a day, but it will depend on the reason you are using it and the kind of product you are taking.
Although there are certain situations where long-term use may be recommended, echinacea usually works best if it is reserved for situations that really call for it. Often people rely on echinacea supplements to counteract other poor lifestyle choices. Although echinacea is a powerful herb, it will never take the place of getting enough rest, eating well, and supporting your immune system in other ways. The long-term overuse of echinacea may have adverse effects, so it’s a good idea to promote ongoing health by making good lifestyle choices and keeping a bottle of echinacea on hand for when you really need it.
What to Look For in an Echinacea Product
If you are looking for a good echinacea product, there are a few things to look for on the label. First, of course, make sure the product actually contains echinacea. Luckily, this herb's common name and scientific name are the same, so there should be no confusion there. Pay attention to additional ingredients that may include unnecessary fillers or additives. A good thing to look for is a well-designed formula where all the ingredients work together to support your health in one way or another.
Look for what species of echinacea is in the product and avoid wildcrafted echinacea products. Echinacea purpurea is a good choice, as it is highly effective and easy to grow. Echinacea angustifolia is not easily cultivated and is threatened in the wild, so be cautious about products that use this or any other rare echinacea species.
Waking up to Wellness
Echinacea is one of those plants that almost everyone has used at one time or another. It is one of the most popular herbal supplements, and it is easy to see why. Knowing how much this plant can do for us, maybe people will start looking at echinacea with more gratitude and give it the respect it deserves. Live Conscious® BreatheWell® features Echinacea purpurea, along with other immune-supporting herbs such as marshmallow root and elderberry. This is a comprehensive formula that promotes respiratory and immune health along with providing those potent antioxidants that have so many health benefits that we need more than ever. Try BreatheWell® today, or at least keep a bottle handy so your new favorite echinacea supplement will be there when you really need it.