Echinacea (Echinacea augustifolia/purpurea)
So much has been written about this herb over the last ten years or so that many people are now familiar with its properties, indeed this is the time of year when people start to stock up on this herb as now marks the start of the cold and flu virus season.
Echinacea owes its name to the Greek word 'Echinos' meaning sea urchin, of which the dried seed head of the plant resembles. The two most commonly used varieties are the augustifolia and the purpurea as they have the strongest medicinal properties.
Echinacea is native to North America where it has a long tradition as a treatment for blood poisoning and snakebites. The victim would have chewed the roots and leaves of the plant swallowing the juice which would then start to work systemically within the body. The masticated plant was then spat out and applied as a poultice directly to the site of the bite.
For those interested in the science bit here, snake venom contains a substance called hyaluronidase, this substance acts as a carrier for other dangerous components within the venom and allows them to permeate the system. Echinacea works by inhibiting this component and therefore inactivating this process.
In the unlikely event of anyone in this country being bitten by a venomous snake we would quite rightly get ourselves to the nearest A & E department. That said Echinacea is an extremely useful herb for treating and preventing a host of viral and bacterial conditions.
Echinacea's main action is its various effects on the immune system, in fact it is impossible to fully appreciate its effects without having a good understanding of the immune system and how it functions.
Overall, Echinacea stimulates the immune response mechanisms within our bodies to produce and circulate more white blood cells (these cells being responsible for fighting infection).
Echinacea is used in the treatment of flu and other upper respiratory viruses; it is also very effective against Herpes virus as well as stomach bugs and urinary tract infections.
As it is such a powerful blood cleanser it is also active against bacterial infections and even septicaemia (blood poisoning).
It is useful in many skin conditions especially where there is infection, such as boils, abscesses, and ulcers.
It is also very soothing on burns and irritated eczema.
Echinacea's soothing properties are in part owing to its cortisone like effects of reducing inflammation, it also promotes tissue healing. Echinacea may be taken as a tincture, tablet or tea, it may also be applies to the skin as a crème or balm. Echinacea baths are lovely and soothing for those with skin problems or if you feel like you may be 'coming down with something'. Echinacea is also shown to be effective against Candida Albicans which is a fungal infection.
Echinacea combined with Elderflowers and Peppermint makes a wonderful cold remedy, makes an especially nice tea and you could also ad some ginger to this mix to warm the body and help circulation.