Echinacea Benefits to Support Your Health

Echinacea is a powerful and beneficial herb used by people around the world to maintain good health. Every part of the plant, from the roots to the flower petals, is bursting with vital nutrients. With a reputation as a natural cold remedy, many people enjoy echinacea in one form or another, whether as a tea, a supplement, or even the raw plant. Here, we’ll look at ten impressive ways echinacea can support your health.

What Is Echinacea?

A flowering plant native to North America, echinacea has dotted the American landscape in one form or another for hundreds of years. Initially prized by the Native American Sioux Indians as a remedy for snakebites, colic, and infections, it went on to become a wellness staple until the advent of antibiotics. Today, echinacea remains one of America’s most beloved and widely used herbs. Natural cold remedies, cough drops, and organic supplements all cite echinacea as a key ingredient.

Like other herbs, the health benefits of echinacea are owed to its diverse makeup of nutrients, which includes polysaccharides, alkylamides, flavonoids, polyphenols, vitamin C, selenium, and zinc.

10 Health Benefits of Echinacea

Americans spend millions of dollars on echinacea supplements every year to support their health. With a long history of therapeutic use, there is a treasure trove of research to support its popularity.

1. Boosts the Immune System

Echinacea can have a powerful impact on the immune system; over 14 clinical trials have confirmed its ability to encourage good health all year long. Other studies show echinacea to be among the most effective supplements for seasonal wellness.

2. Reduces Redness and Swelling

Systemic swelling, redness, and discomfort in the body can have multiple sources, including an unhealthy diet or strenuous exercise. Consuming echinacea or applying skin care products that contain echinacea essential oil can help reduce and alleviate tissue irritation.

3. Promotes the Health of Cells

Consuming echinacea promotes the health of protective cells in your body. Many of the compounds in echinacea support immune cells and encourage healthy cell growth.

4. Facilitates Oxygen Transport

Echinacea may improve oxygen levels in the blood. Echinacea increases erythropoietin production in the bone marrow, this, in turn, promotes red blood cell production and increases the capacity of the blood to transport oxygen.

5. Supports Oral Health

Echinacea has been evaluated in combination with other herbs like sage and lavender and found to reduce bad breath. It’s believed this effect is partly due to echinacea’s ability to neutralized the harmful organisms that cause bad breath.

6. Alleviates Physical Discomfort

Native Americans used echinacea to reduce aches and pains. Today, research has shown its potential for promoting comfort following surgery.

7. Encourages Normal Skin Health

Echinacea supports a normal complexion by helping to discourage blemishes and irritation. Other studies found that it helps hydrate the skin and reduce the appearance of wrinkles.

8. Promotes Upper Respiratory Health

Echinacea is among the best herbs for supporting upper respiratory health, even in children. One double-blind placebo-controlled study found that air travel passengers who took echinacea tablets before and during a flight experienced fewer respiratory issues.

9. Provides Antioxidants

Echinacea is a source of antioxidants like vitamin C, beta-carotene, flavonoids, selenium, and zinc. One study found that a particular echinacea tincture had more antioxidant activity than Gingko Biloba.

10. Supports Normal Aging

Although human research is necessary for confirmation, the results of animal studies suggest that echinacea could offer anti-aging potential. In one study, supplemental echinacea was attributed to helping extend the lifespan of aging mice.

Using Echinacea

Echinacea supplements are available in many forms. If you have access to the plant itself, you can make a pure, organic tea which doubles as an incredible home remedy for the flu.

Echinacea Tea

Below is an easy recipe for echinacea tea. Make sure only to use organic or wildcrafted echinacea that’s free of pesticides. For flavor, you can add natural sweeteners like honey, but I prefer it plain.

  1. Heat 8-16 ounces of distilled or filtered water over medium to high heat.
  2. Add a mixture of flowers, roots, and leaves.
  3. Cover with a lid, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  4. Strain and enjoy hot or cold!

Side Effects and Precautions

Echinacea is generally considered safe, however, people who are sensitive to pollen should exercise caution. Echinacea comes from the same family of plants as daisies, marigolds, and ragweed. Some common side effects include dizziness, dry mouth, and mild nausea. While it is a favorite herb taken by many women, more research is needed to determine its safety for expectant or breastfeeding mothers. Before you try echinacea yourself, consult with your trusted healthcare provider.

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Horny Goat Weed: Health Benefits, Use

Horny goat weed is a traditional Chinese medicinal herb. It is also known by its many botanical names, including Epimedium, and its Chinese name, yin yang huo.

As a form of alternative medicine, the herb has been used to treat conditions from hay fever to atherosclerosis, nerve pain fatigue, osteoporosis, and erectile dysfunction.

Human research data to support the use of horny goat weed is limited at best. However, there is some anecdotal evidence for using the herb to treat certain medical conditions.

Uses and research

Epimedium or horny goat weed
Epimedium is a flowering plant that is also known as horny goat weed and is used in traditional Chinese medicine.

There have been studies conducted on cells in laboratories that report evidence of several beneficial properties of horny goat weed. Early research suggests that it may have properties that can keep bones strong, protect the nerves, and support the immune system.

Other cell research has revealed the following possible effects:

  • anticancer effects
  • anti-HIV activity
  • radiosensitizing effects
  • reversal of multidrug resistance in some tumor cells
  • postmenopausal bone loss prevention

Atherosclerosis is a condition where the arteries in the neck harden. For people with atherosclerosis, a mixture containing horny goat weed may be beneficial and result in improved symptoms and clinical tests.

People with hay fever may experience symptom relief and a reduction in white blood cells that tend to increase with allergies.

Horny goat weed and erectile dysfunction

One study looked at rats with injured nerves and nerve cells grown in a lab. The researchers reported that icariin, the active component of horny goat weed, might show positive and promising effects in treating erectile dysfunction (ED) caused by nerve injury.

ED is a common problem affecting men, especially those aged 40-70 years old. Nearly 20 million men in the United States are affected by the condition, which can have many causes. At times, men may experience psychological conditions, such as depression or anxiety, that may cause or contribute to ED.

ED has 2 categories:

  • Primary ED: Men affected by this rare condition have never been able to have or sustain a penile erection. Primary ED is often due to a physical abnormality or a psychological cause.
  • Secondary ED: This form is typically caused by a physical condition. Causes range from conditions such as diabetes, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and physical injuries. This group of men will likely have had erections in the past.

Certain medications, such as those to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, depression, cancer, and long-term pain, may contribute to the condition. Some of these medications include:

  • beta-blockers
  • clonidine
  • spironolactone
  • thiazide diuretics
  • alcohol and drugs such as cocaine
  • opioids
  • SSRI and tricyclic antidepressants
  • anxiolytics
  • monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  • amphetamines
  • 5 alpha-reductase inhibitors
  • anticholinergics
  • cimetidine
  • hormonal therapies

Although there is some evidence that horny goat weed may offer symptom relief in certain medical conditions, additional research is necessary.

Dosing

Chinese medicine draws
Before taking any herbs or supplements, it is important to speak to a healthcare professional who can assess an individual’s needs.

As with any medications, herbs, and supplements, it is important for people to speak to their doctor before using horny goat weed. A doctor can work out its safety and dosage based on an individual’s needs and medical history.

For the treatment of atherosclerosis and ED, the University of Michigan recommends taking 5 grams 3 times per day. For the treatment of hay fever, it is recommended to simmer 500 milligrams in 250 milliliters of water for 10-15 minutes and consume 3 times daily.

People should check with their doctor to see if seeping in water is required when treating themselves with horny goat weed. Typically, the herb is mixed in a tonic to decrease the risk of side effects.

Alternative medicine should not take the place of traditional medicine or be used in the place of recommendations from a doctor.

High doses of horny goat weed have been associated with breathing difficulty, vomiting, and nausea.

Side effects and interactions

As with any medication or herbal supplement, some people may experience side effects or adverse reactions when using horny goat weed. Possible side effects may include:

  • mood changes such as irritability and aggression
  • racing heart
  • increased energy
  • sweating
  • feelings of being hot
  • decreased thyroid function
  • nausea

It is important for people to speak to a doctor about these or any other side effects that occur with the use of horny goat weed.

Interactions

Horny goat weed may interact with certain medications that include:

  • cortisone
  • prednisone
  • prednisolone
  • methylprednisolone
  • dexamethasone
  • cytochrome P450 substrates
  • aromatase Inhibitors, such as anastrozole, exemestane, and letrozole

People should not take horny goat weed if they:

  • have hormone-sensitive cancer, as the herb has been shown to promote estrogen production
  • have heart disease as it can potentially lead to a rapid irregular heartbeat, shortness of breath, and excitability
  • have a known sensitivity to Epimedium
  • are taking aromatase inhibitors such as anastrozole, exemestane, and letrozole
  • have been recommended not to do so by a doctor

Anyone who is considering using horny goat weed should discuss it with their doctor first. Health experts can determine if horny goat weed is right for someone and what the appropriate dosing would be.

There have not been enough studies to recommend the use of this herb and to ensure its safety.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and other government agencies do not monitor the quality, purity, or safety of herbs and extra caution is recommended.

More studies are needed to guarantee safety and identify potential side effects. If anyone does purchase herbs, they should be sure to buy from a known and reputable source.

The Immune System: Anatomy & Physiology

The immune system serves as the body’s greatest defense mechanism against foreign invaders. But as herbalists, we see it as much more than just a systematic fortress.  Medical herbalist Diana Jones writes, “Immunity represents an ecological interface between inner and outer environments”–a concept that considers immune health holistically, linking it to our relationship with mind, body, spirit and ultimately our largest bodily ecosystem—nature. Our “Herbalism, Anatomy & Physiology” series continues with an overview of how this complex system works, as well as some herbal tools to keep your immune system healthy.

Technically speaking, there are two forms of immunity: innate immunity (non-specific) and adaptive immunity (acquired).  The innate immune system functions with what we were born with, our genetic predispositions of self-protection. It’s the first line of defense, including our skin, the tissue lining of our respiratory and digestive systems, our mucous, chemicals in the blood and immune system cells. When it senses the chemical properties of an antigen, a.k.a. our foreign invader, the innate immune system kicks into gear. Adaptive immunity, on the other hand, functions differently and serves as the inspiration behind modern-day vaccines. This form of immunity actually holds memories of antigens it has fought before, so it generates a more efficient response when encountering future attacks. While these two forms of immunity are considered the foundations of our immune response, there are other key players and body systems.

The Immune Alliance

Lymphatic System
While it’s natural to think of the immune system as a stand-alone entity, our lymphatic system also plays an important role in keeping us well. Perhaps this is why so many ancient medicine practices, like Ayurveda, emphasize lymphatic support through the use of herbs and massage for self-care. This commonly forgotten network system touches almost every part of our body system. It’s comprised of key organs and lymph nodes and transports lymph fluid, carrying critical immune cells throughout the body, as well as digested fats, fat soluble vitamins, and more. To support your lymphatic health, try dry brushing regularly or consider using alterative herbs like cleavers and burdock.

White Blood Cells
Created in the bone marrow and stored in the blood and lymphatic system, these cells are essential for supporting immunity and fighting infections. Unlike other cells, white blood cells do not have nuclei. Since these cells only live for one to three days, your body is constantly reproducing them and helping to regenerate itself regularly.

Spleen
Considered the largest organ in the lymphatic system, the spleen mostly acts as a blood filter and a storage system. It also helps to slow blood down and give the immune system time to create antibodies to fight antigens. While you can live without one, it would certainly create a higher risk for infections.

Bone Marrow
This spongy tissue resides inside your bones and produces blood cells, including platelets which help with clotting and white blood cells which fight infection.

Thymus
This organ is part of the lymphatic system which produces T cells, or lymphocytes, which help the adaptive immune system respond to antigens.

Support Immune Health

The beauty of herbal formulation is that it can be uniquely tailored to each person’s needs. A herbalist may not only use immune herbs for seasonal support, but alteratives to support the lymphatic system, diaphoretics to support a healthy sweat, nervines to reduce stress, or whatever herbal allies are calling to the herbal practitioner and client. By supporting the body as a whole, we believe we have a better chance of being and staying well. Below are some herbs that are used traditionally when thinking about immune support.

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea Angustifolia): Once you taste echinacea’s powerful root, you’ll be surprised by the tingling sensation that soon follows. One of the plant’s distinguishing characteristics is the presence of alkylamines, which help to stimulate the immune system and provide a powerful boost.

Elderberry (Sambucus nigra): Traditionally both the flowers and berries of the black elderberry tree are used to support the immune system in the depths of winter.* European apothecaries often have the dark purple syrup handy to aid in seasonal wellness.

Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): Because this kitchen herb is rich in the volatile oil thymol, it’s commonly used in cough drops, mouthwash, and ointments. A soothing plant ally for winter.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra): It’s not just for pacifying a sweet tooth; this root also aids the respiratory system in times of need. Whether you’ve sung yourself hoarse or your throat is trying to tell you something.

Ginger (Zingiber officinale): While you may know this rhizome for its digestive supporting properties, it’s also known for seasonal support in traditional herbalism. If you drink enough ginger in your tea, it will act as a warming agent, helping the body “sweat it out.”

Adaptogens: A classification for herbs that provide deep immune and whole body support, and they also help the body adapt to stress. Many of these herbs are immunomodulators, like astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus), reishi (Ganoderma lucidum), codonopsis (Codonopsis pilosula), and schisandra (Schisandra chinensis).

Our herbalists see immunity as the web, intricately woven between other key body systems and gut health. Many practitioners have witnessed the undeniable correlation between strong immune systems and a healthy outlook on life. While we believe the immune system to be more complex and powerful than one can even fathom, we are certain that happiness, living in communion with nature, having healthy relationships, and embracing plant medicine certainly can help.

True Aloe

Aloe Vera

Latin Name

L. Aloe vera, Aloe barbadensis var miller, Aloe vera var. chinensis, Aloe vulgaris, Aloe vera var. lanzae, Aloe indica, Aloe barbadensis var. chinensis, Aloe vera var. wratislaviensis, Aloe elongata, Aloe vera var. littoralis, Aloe perfoliata var. vera, Aloe perfoliata var. barbadensis, Aloe flava, Aloe chinensis, Aloe barbadensis, Aloe lanzae.

Common Names

Aloe vera, True Aloe

Suggested Properties

Anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, anti-viral and energy tonic

Indicated for

Digestive tract irritations such as colitis, ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome, cleansing stomach, liver, kidneys, spleen, bladder and colon, arthritis, asthma, bladder and kidney infections, cancer, constipation, diverticular disorders, haemorrhoids, heartburn, heart disease, HIV, immune stimulation, indigestion, insomnia, kidney disease, leg cramps, leukemia, skin health, stomach distress, tumours, vaginitis, vaginal douche, viruses, white blood cell production and general health tonic.

If you are using oral corticosteroids, such as beclomethasone, methylprednisolone, or prednisone, it is important not to overuse or misuse Aloe vera juice. A potassium deficiency can develop, and you may experience toxic effects from the medication.

Although it is removed, in practice Aloe vera juice may sometimes still contain tiny quantities of the laxative compound found in aloe latex. Should you begin to have cramps or diarrhea do not ingest any more of the juice.

Allergies to aloe vera are very rare. Yet any food can be a potential allergen. Test a small amount on the inner arm to see if any reaction takes place. If no irritation on the skin is observed then it is generally tolerated. If ingestion causes diarrhea, then reduce the amount you ingest, increasing use slowly over several days until the desired amount is tolerated.

Surprising Facts About Aloe Vera

  • With a history that extends back 6,000 years, Aloe vera is believed to have originated in the Sudan.
  • Although it resembles a cactus, Aloe is a member of the lily family.
  • There are 400 species of the Aloe vera plant.
  • Aloe’s health benefits are supported by nearly 700 published scientific and clinical studies.
  • Aloe vera offers over 200 biologically active amino acids, vitamins, antioxidants, minerals, and enzymes.
  • Both Ayurvedic medicines in India and Traditional Chinese Medicine utilize Aloe vera.
  • Aloe vera is the second most frequently used ingredient in Hispanic culture and, in Asian culture, is second only to red ginseng.
  • Native Americans called it the “Wand of the Heaven.”

Aloe vera, also known as Aloe barbadensis, has been a staple for thousands of years in many cultures around the world. Today, it’s used in lotions, ointments, creams, sunburn remedies, and cosmetics, among other things. Traditional uses for aloe vera include soothing burns, moisturizing skin, and healing small wounds. Many people even apply it to reduce the appearance of acne. Aloe vera offers a wide range of nutritional benefits that support more than just skin health. Let’s take a look at some other uses you may not know about.

1. Aloe Vera Supports the Immune System

The immune system requires oxygen-rich blood. Aloe vera supports nutrient absorption, a key factor in maintaining blood-oxygen levels. Oddly enough, one of the ways aloe does this is by keeping the digestive tract clean through bowel regularity.

Aloe also acts as an adaptogen, which keeps cells in balance. It helps protect them from stress and other factors that disrupt their function, in turn making it easier for the immune system to do its job.

Aloe vera is an abundant source of polysaccharides. Research shows these complex sugars improve the efficiency of the immune system. Aloe is also rich in the antioxidants that protect against free radicals.

2. Aloe Vera Supports Normal Digestion

Aloe vera contains two enzymes — amylase and lipase — that are helpful for encouraging normal digestion. Aloe also helps keep your stomach acid levels balanced to support a normal gut environment.

Some preliminary research suggests aloe may also help with ulcerative colitis, a condition in which ulcers form in the intestines. In a clinical trial, 30 patients suffering from the condition were given aloe vera. Fourteen of the thirty patients reported some form of improvement; only four patients in the placebo group reported improvement.

Aloe contains acemannan. Acemannan and other polysaccharides are prebiotics that supports probiotics in the gut. When you have these ‘good guys’ in your gut, you’re apt to digest your food better, get more nutritional value from it, and just enjoy better health. A University of California, Davis study found people who consumed aloe vera absorbed vitamin C and vitamin B12 better.

3. Helps Relieve Symptoms of IBS?

Irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, affects many people. Common symptoms include gas, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal discomfort. Many people have reported experiencing relief after taking aloe supplements.

4. Rich in Vitamins and Minerals

Aloe is loaded with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, including:

  • Vitamin A (beta-carotene): Important for healthy skin, teeth, bones, and eyes.
  • Vitamin C: Vital for energy creation, skin health, and immune function.
  • Vitamin E: Protects the skin from UV damage.
  • Vitamin B12: Keep’s nerve and brain cells healthy. Necessary to replicate DNA.
  • Folic acid: Essential for brain function, liver health, and energy creation.
  • Choline: Supports metabolism and the neurotransmitters needed for memory, focus, and a positive mood.

Aloe contains calcium, chromium, copper, selenium, magnesium, manganese, potassium, sodium, and zinc, all of which are integral to energy creation, hormone balance, cellular reproduction, and immune system function.

5. Aloe Vera is a Great Source of Nutrients and Enzymes

Aloe vera is often called a superfood because, in addition to vitamins and minerals, it offers more than 200 other bioavailable nutrients. It’s especially rich in the following enzymes, which support energy creation, hormone function, digestion, and toxin removal:

  • Alliinase
  • Alkaline phosphatase
  • Amylase
  • Bradykinase
  • Carboxypeptidase
  • Catalase
  • Cellulase
  • Lipase
  • Peroxidase

There is a group of nutrients known as secondary metabolites which are only found in aloe. Some of these include aloe emodin, chrysophanol, aloesin, and aloin. Research shows these nutrients can offer a number of other important health benefits.

6. Aloe Supports Cardiovascular Health

Phytosterols are beneficial compounds in plants and aloe vera is a particularly rich source. Phytosterols help balance LDL cholesterol levels and support cardiovascular health. In a five-year study of 5,000 heart disease patients, researchers found those who consumed aloe vera and another plant called ‘Husk of Isabgol’ had better cholesterol and blood sugar numbers.

7. Aloe Vera Boosts Dental Health

A recent study involving 345 participants suggests aloe makes an effective mouthwash that supports healthy teeth and gums. Another study found that aloe vera gel can help fight Candida albicans, a common mouth fungus.

8. Aloe Fights Harmful Organisms

Some plants contain a variety of chemicals and compounds that serve as antiseptic agents and help combat harmful organisms. Aloe vera itself contains six powerful antiseptic agents the human body is able to use: lupeol, salicylic acid, urea nitrogen, cinnamic acid, phenols, and sulfur.

9. Aloe Vera is Ultra Soothing

One of the best uses for aloe vera is to soothe all types of red, swollen, irritated tissue. It contains an enzyme called bradykinase that helps reduce irritation.

10. Aloe Vera May Have Anti-Aging Properties

It appears aloe vera does more than soothe and moisturize. It also offers anti-aging benefits that clear the appearance of wrinkles from the inside out. In one study, 30 women over the age of 45 took an aloe vera gel supplement for 90 days. By the end of the study, the appearance of their facial wrinkles decreased and their skin looked better.

In Conclusion

Aloe vera does a lot more than soothe a sunburn. It’s good for skin and is a potent superfood that delivers powerful nutrition. There are several ways to harness the benefits of aloe vera. You can take it as a juice, a gel, or in pill form. When choosing an aloe supplement, check the ingredients. Some products include ingredients other than aloe vera and may not contain the nutrients, ingredients, or concentrations you expect, acemannan in particular.

What Is Acemannan?

Acemannan pronounced “ace-man-nan”, is a polysaccharide found in the inner part of aloe vera leaves. It’s actually the component that sets aloe vera apart from the 400+ other species of aloe plants. Acemannan has many nutritional qualities and is largely responsible for the benefits aloe vera offers.

Do All of Aloe Vera’s Health Benefits Come from Acemannan?

Aloe vera offers many health benefits and you’ve probably noticed that there are a lot of aloe vera products on the market. Topical products like lotions and creams take advantage of aloe vera’s unique ability to soothe skin. Aloe vera also offers a wealth of internal benefits. For example, studies have shown that formulas with acemannan outperform other remedies for oral wounds.

There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that, when ingested, aloe vera supports immune health, is very soothing, and even aids digestion. Some research indicates that acemannan can help support normal blood sugar and triglyceride levels. As beneficial as acemannan is, there is a matrix of other vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients working together within the plant.

Best Way to Consume Acemannan

The best way to ensure you’re getting acemannan is to verify that the aloe vera product you’ve chosen is made from the inner aloe vera leaf, not the outer leaf or whole leaf. There are big differences between the inner and outer leaf. For instance, certain compounds within the outer leaf are known to cause severe gastric distress, stay clear!

What about consuming fresh aloe vera straight from the leaf? Certainly doable, but not everyone appreciates the taste, as aloe vera can be bitter and overpowering, even when mixed with juices or smoothies. It’s also difficult to consume the gel from the inner aloe vera leaf without ending up with part of the outer leaf and all that comes with it.

What About Aloe Vera Juice?

Some people prefer aloe vera juice but it can be difficult to find a juice made with only inner leaf aloe vera. Even juices that are made using the gel from the inner aloe vera leaf may still contain other additives.