Herb Guide: Echinacea

Echinacea, pronounced ek-i-NAY-see-a, is one herb that has become a “household” name in the 1990’s. Many refer to it as “Purple Cone Flower” because of its large purple daisy petals, which contain a hard and spiny center cone. These spines probably give the plant its name, since sea animals with spines are called “echinoderms”. Echinacea is indigenous to the U.S. and can be found both growing wild in many areas as well as in cultivated gardens. There are actually nine different species of the plant; two are most popular as remedies: Echinacea Angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea.

Echinacea for Immuno-Excellence…

Adapted from The Natural Medicine Chest, by Ellen Kamhi, PhD RN and Eugene Zampieron, ND


Echinacea is a North American plant, native to the prairies…

Echinacea is an important plant for treating immune dysfunction…

Echinacea juice can be placed directly on wounds to promote healing…


Echinacea is also called purple cone flower and it is native to the Mid Western United states, liking wide open spaces and fields. There are 9 major species of Echinacea in the U.S., with Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea being the most widespread members of this genus. Many wild stands of Echinacea are now being decimated and several, like Echinacea tennesseensis and Echinacea simulata, are now threatened species.

The Ethnobotany of Echinacea…

This beautiful plant grows to a height of 3 feet and is a member of the Compositae or daisy family. Daisy family members have a  composite flower made up of two types of flowers in one! The “ray flowers” are usually the colored petals protruding from the circumference of the flower. Echinacea has a ray of purple to pink petals.  The disc or centralized flower of Echinacea gets its name from the Latin “echinos” meaning “spiny” and resembles  a black sea urchin (Phylum Echinodermata).

The story of how Echinacea made it into widespread use in American herbal medicine is a humorous one. Until the 1800’s, Echinacea remained an exclusive Native American remedy, virtually unknown to Europeans.  The Lakota Native Americans used the freshly scraped roots as an antidote for snake bites and as an antiseptic for infected wounds. The Cheyenne of Kansas used the herb for gum diseases while the Dakota First Nation people used it for the engorgement of the lymphatic system and sore throats.

Echinacea… from  ‘Snake oil’ to Supreme Medicine…________________________________________________________________

Towards the later part of the 1800’s, the American “Wild West” was still unsettled, and “snake oil” salesman was very common during this era. One such man was H. F. C. Meyer, who called Echinacea “Black Sampson, the Slayer of All  Ailments”. H.F.C. Meyer had the infamous reputation of being the stereotypical charlatan by many ‘regular’ physicians. He would often pull into town with his horse-drawn cart of tonics, potions, and pills and would preach ‘the good news’ of his panaceas’ to all who would listen.


Meyer sent a sample of Echinacea for the investigation to John Uri Lloyd, the Eclectic pharmacist and chemist, and Dr. John King, a prominent Eclectic physician. He accompanied the sample with what Lloyd and King thought were outlandish and extravagant claims of Echinacea’s multitude of benefits. After dismissing Meyer and his ‘Black Sampson’, Meyer persisted by stating that he had so much faith in Echinacea that he would personally visit Lloyd in Cincinnati and would be carrying a live rattlesnake. He was willing to be bitten by the snake so that he could demonstrate  Echinacea’s medicinal potency.

This act of faith persuaded Lloyd to seriously investigate the potential of this plant. Lloyd was so impressed that Echinacea rose to legendary status as the top Eclectic remedy from the late 1800’s to about 1950. The Eclectics used it for all manner of systemic and local infections, including snake and spider bites as Meyer had stated!  Many insect, spider, and reptilian poisons spread from the bite area because they can dissolve hyaluronic acid, a type of glue which holds cells together. Echinacea inhibits the enzyme hyaluronidase, also referred to as spreading factor.

Its use eventually waned in this country with the advent of the antibiotic age, but in Germany, Echinacea continued to excel!


OOPS!..The Error that Made Echinacea…______________________________________________________________________

Echinacea was first brought to Germany for study by the pharmaceutical giant

G. Madaus, who wrote extensively on its use. Another amusing story surrounding Echinacea occurred when Madaus performed extensive research on the herb Echinacea purpurea instead of Echinacea Angustifolia, the more prominently used herb in American at the time. Madaus was sure that he had obtained the seeds of E. Angustifolia; he cultivated, experimented and wrote about it for a while until he discovered  that he had the wrong plant!!

Luckily, Epurpurea proved to be superior to  E. Angustifolia and loved the German climate more than the less hardy Angustifolia! Madaus and other researchers proved that all parts of the plant have medicinal properties, including the roots, flowers, leaves, and seeds. In fact, many of the studies on Echinacea were done with a stabilized, fresh juice extract of the entire plant.


Echinacea Excells as an Immunomodulator…


Herbalists and physicians have used Echinacea for all kinds of infections. In 1984, in the journal Infection and Immunity Vol. 46, Echinacea was shown to definitively stimulate macrophage activity. In another study in 1978 Planta Medica V. 33., it was illustrated that Echinacea proved to be an antiviral agent as well.

Dr. Rudi Bauer of Germany is one of the foremost experts on the medicinal chemistry of Echinacea. His team of researchers isolated a number of medicinal compounds. These include polysaccharides, polyacetylenes, cichoric acids, and alkylamides.

Other studies have illustrated its ability to specifically stimulate T-Cells, which fight viruses, bacteria, and tumor formation. Studies have revealed that Echinacea is a powerful, non-specific remedy against many bacterial and viral infections.

Large clinical trials of almost 5,000 people in Germany showed that Echinacea was

85% effective in supporting healthy skin. Echinacea is also considered to be a lymphatic cleanser and is especially indicated for conditions of the throat, like tonsillitis. It has diaphoretic properties which help release toxins through the skin.

In the prestigious journal, The Lancet Infectious Diseases, 2007 Jul;7(7) the authors report on the “Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis” and concluded that “Published evidence supports echinacea’s benefit in decreasing the incidence and duration of the common cold.”

Echinacea is a herb which contains vitamin A, E, B-complex, vitamin C, and minerals such as iron, sulfur, zinc, and potassium. It also contains inulin, an immunomodulating starch which also balances blood sugar.

Educational Tips on Using Echinacea…


Echinacea powder can be used as a soothing gum rub. Echinacea taken orally as a tea, powder or standardized extract can help eliminate a “ run down” feeling and  to pre-empt the development of a seasonal health challenge.


Echinacea has been shown to be non-toxic even in high amounts, although some people are allergic to Compositae plants, and can get runny eyes and a stuffy nose if allergic.

There have been circumstantial reports stating that Echinacea should be avoided in autoimmune diseases due to its ability to intensify the immune reaction. Historically, this is not valid as the Eclectics compiled a voluminous amount of information which extolled the use of Echinacea in autoimmune issues.  More research is needed to clarify this point of contention.


These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. These products are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.