Echinacea is a perennial plant which produces a stout,
bristly, hairy stem 2 to 3 feet in height. The leaves are linear, lanceolate,
and grow 3 to 8 inches long; they are rough, hairy, and 3-nerved. The upper
leaves are sessile, and the lower leaves grow on long petioles. A single large
flower blooms from July to October; it is white-rose to pale purple in color,
with a conical disk and 12 to 20 large, spreading rays. It grows in the prairie
region of the United States, west of Ohio.
Other common names:
Black sampson, Purple coneflower, Sampson root
|| Myristic acid
| Plant acids
|| Caffeinic acid
|| Polyacetylene compounds
|| Phenolic acids
| Fatty acids
* For definition of some of the above terms
see the dictionary section of this book.
| Vitamin A
|| Vitamin B-3
|| Vitamin C
| B complex vitamins
PROPERTIES AND USES
Alterative - a chemical which stimulates changes in
metabolism and tissue function of a defensive nature in the presence of both
chronic an acute diseases.
Antiseptic - an agent which prevents or retards
growth of microorganisms.
Depurative - a cleansing agent
Diaphoretic - an agent which increases
Digestive - a substance which assists in
Sialogogue - an agent which stimulates the
secretion of saliva.
Echinacea stimulates the immune response, increasing the
body's ability to resist viral and bacterial infections. The herb stimulates
T-cells and activates macrophages that destroy foreign intracellular invaders.
Echinacea increases levels of properdin, a naturally occurring chemical thought
to increase cellular resistance to infection. It also displays anti-tumor and
direct antibiotic actions.
Echinacea's other immunity-boosting properties are
currently being investigated. There are indications that the herb delays
resorption of other drugs, thereby prolonging their action in the body. It
could likewise prolong the effects of any other herbs that are administered
It has been shown to have mild antibiotic activity against
Streptococci and Staphylococcus arueus, attributable to the constituent
One of the main actions of this herb is to inhibit the
activity of the enzyme hyaluronidase. This enzyme is normally used by pathogens
to destroy hyaluronic acid (the cementing tissue between cells) allowing
passage into sensitive tissues. The constituent that appears to be responsible
for inhibiting hyaluronidase has been identified as echinacin B. Interestingly,
a mechanism very similar to the hyaluronidase system has been proposed as a
possible substrate for the generation of rheumatism and tumor formation and the
beginnings of cancer.
The antihyaluronidase activity of echinacea has also been
shown to be involved in the regeneration of cellular connective (granulomatous)
tissue destroyed during infection. In one study, heterogeneous and homogeneous
fibrin grafts were transformed, via amino acids, into components of connective
tissue substance under the influence of leucocytic enzymes. The transformation
was facilitated by a total extract of echinacea. Compared to pure fibrin
grafts, echinacea-fibrin grafts exhibited increased healing tendency of the
wound areas and less marked leucocytic infiltration. New fibrocytes appeared
more rapidly and on a larger scale, and the extract appeared to develop
protective action towards the mesechymal mucopolysaccharides produced by the
fibrocytes. In other words, the echinacea stimulates the breakdown of fibrin
into mucopolysaccharides which are transformed into new connective tissue by
the young fibroblasts, the formation of which is also stimulated by
It stimulates macrophage and T-cell
Purified polysaccharides (EPS) prepared from echinacea
possess a strong activating force on macrophages which then develop pronounced
extracellular cytotoxicity against tumor targets. The activation is brought
about by EPS alone and is independent of any cooperative effect with
lymphocytes. The macrophages activated by EPS are also instrumental in the
production and secretion of oxygen radicals and interleukin 1. EPS has no
effect on T lymphocytes, and B lymphocytes are only moderately stimulated. EPS
has no toxicity.
In another study two polysaccharides were discovered that
did stimulate T-cell activity - in fact 20% to 30% more than a very strong
It has tumor-inhibiting activity
USDA researchers have also discovered a tumor-inhibiting
property in echinacea, this one being an oncolytic hydrocarbon from the
essential oil. Tumors inhibited were Walker's carcinosarcoma and lymphocytic
leukemia. It was inactive in lymphoid leukemia.
It stimulates phagocytosis
Bacterial skin infections in humans have been rapidly and
completely healed as the result of improvement the phagocytosis rate.
It has antiphlogistic action
In a study of the antiphlogistic effect of echinacea,
using the carrageenan and croton oil tests, it was found the echinacina B was
more active in the later phase of the inflammatory response. This latter phase
is reportedly characterized by vasoactive prostaglandin intermediate release
from neutrophils after their interaction with carrageenan. The substance also
inhibited ear dermatitis induced by irritant croton oil, which is reportedly
mediated also by arachidonic acid metabolites.
It may delay resorption of other active
A German patent reveals the presence of two factors A
& B, in echinacea. Factor A causes a cortisone-like stress and pyrogenic
effects, while factor B has an antihyaluronidase effect and is thus recommended
for detoxification remedies or for prolongation of their effective time by
delaying their resorption. Both factors are nontoxic. This intriguing
hypothesis needs further verification.
It may be more effective than
It has been found the echinacin is sometimes more
effective than cortisone. For example, streptococcal infection spreads rapidly
in guinea pigs pretreated with cortisone, but is contained by echinacin. It has
also been found that 0.04 ml. of fresh plant extract possesses a hyaluronidase
inhibitory action equal to 1 mg. of cortisone.
It increases properdin levels
Intravenous injections of echinacea (0.6 ml/kg of body
weight) in rabbits initially decreased but subsequently greatly increase
endogenous levels of properdin, a chemical though to be involved in resistance
to viral and bacterial infection.
It is antiviral
Alcohol and water extracts of echinacea, and echinacin,
protect cells against virally induced canker sores, influenza and herpes by
inducing interferon-like mechanism.
Many of the above studies can be views as a simple
verification of an early eclectic physical who observed over 100 blood counts
from patients with infectious disease, mainly tuberculosis. Echinacea increased
by phagocytic power of observed leukocytes. It also normalized the percentage
count of neutrophils, and improved both hyperleukocytosis and leukopenia. The
proportion of white cells to red cells normalized. The elimination of 3 waste
products was increased. This approach worked best in cases were no evidence of
phagocytosis was present before the herb was administered.
Heavy use of Echinacea may induce
infertility in the male
Incidentally, hyaluronidase is one of three enzymes
attached to the acrosomal membrane located on the head of the male
spermatozoon. This enzyme attacks the intercellular matrix of the cumulus
oophorus and clears a path to the zona pellucida, without which action the
spermatozoon cannot bind to the zona and fertilization cannot take place. It
would not be unreasonable to think, therefore, that men taking large amount of
echinacea would experience some infertility, though more study remains to be
done in this area.
Echinacea has no known toxicity.
Possible interactions - The anti-inflammatory
activity on echinacea can be seriously inhibited by phenobarbital and certain
other sedatives and hypnotics, such as chloral hydrate and meprobamate. This is
also true of beta-adrenergic blocking agents, such as propranolol.
Comments - There is evidence to show that combining
bactericidal and bacteriostatic agents will lower the effectiveness of the
bacteriostatic agent. However, how this finding applies to herbal
anti-infectives is still unknown.