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(Echinacea Augustifolia)

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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


 Betaine  Carbohydrates  Echinacin
 Echinolene  Glycosides  Myristic acid
 Plant acids  Resins  Caffeinic acid
 Echinacein  Echinacoside  Inulin
 Sucrose  Polyacetylene compounds  Phenolic acids
 Fatty acids    

* For definition of some of the above terms see the dictionary section of this book.


 Calcium  Chromium  Manganese
 Potassium  Sodium  UFA
 Vitamin A  Vitamin B-3  Vitamin C
 B complex vitamins    

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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 perspiration.

Digestive - a substance which assists in digestion.

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 simultaneously.

It has been shown to have mild antibiotic activity against Streptococci and Staphylococcus arueus, attributable to the constituent echinacoside.

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 echinacea.

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It stimulates macrophage and T-cell activity

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 T-cell stimulator.

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 chemicals

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.

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It may be more effective than cortisone

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.

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