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 Herbal Materia Medica: Echinacea spp. 
 
Echinacea spp.

Compositeae

Names: Purple Coneflower

Habitat: Throughout North American prairies, plains, and open woodlands.

Part Used: The root.

Constituents:

  • Echinacoside, in E. angustifolia but not E. purpurea.Research suggests that the echinacosides glycosides appear to be primary anti-microbial constituents in Echinacea. However there are many other biologically active substances present, and there is evidence that they work synergistically. The polysaccharides, for example, possess the best immune stimulating properties and are also antiviral.
  • Unsaturated isobutyl amides, echinacin and others, in E. angustifolia and E. pallida.
  • Polysaccharides; a heteroxylan and an arabinorhamnogalactan
  • Polyacetylenes, at least 13 of which have been isolated. It has been postulated that these are artifacts formed during storage, since they are found in dried but not fresh roots of E. pallida.
  • Essential oil, containing humulene, caryophyllene and its epoxide, germacrene D and methyl-p-hydroxycinnamate
  • Miscellaneous; vanillin linolenic acid derivatives, a labdane derivative, alkanes and flavonoids and the alkaloids tussilagine and isotussilagine.
Note: Sesquiterpene esters which were originally identified in commercial samples of E. purpurea have since been shown to be due to the presence of an adulterant, Parthenium integrifolium L. (American Feverfew). It appears that this adulteration may be widespread in commercial samples.

Actions: Anti-microbial, immunomodulator, anti-catarrhal, alterative.

Indications: Echinacea is one of the primary remedies for helping the body rid itself of microbial infections. It is often effective against both bacterial and viral attacks, and may be used in conditions such as boils, septicaemia and similar infections. In conjunction with other herbs it may be used for any infection anywhere in the body. For example in combination with Yarrow or Bearberry it will effectively stop cystitis. It is especially useful for infections of the upper respiratory tract such as laryngitis, tonsillitis and for catarrhal conditions of the nose and sinus. In general it may be used widely and safely. The tincture or decoction may be used as a mouthwash in the treatment of pyorrhoea and gingivitis. It may be used as an external lotion to help septic sores and cuts. Much research is focussing upon this plant, providing important insights into its activity and potential uses. Glycosides from the roots have mild activity against Streptococci and Staphylococcus aureus. Echinacoside was the most active with about 6 mg being equivalent to one unit of penicillin. The tincture was able to reduce both the rate of growth and the rate of reproduction of Trichomonas vaginalis, and was found to be effective in halting the recurrence of Candida albicans infection. It seems to prevent infection and repair tissue damaged by infection, partially through inhibiting the activity of the enzyme hyaluronidase. The hyaluronidase system is a primary defense mechanism, involving connective "ground" substance, or hyaluronic acid, acting as a barrier against pathogenic organisms. Some pathogens activate an enzyme, hyaluronidase, which once activated destroys the integrity of the ground substance. This causes the barrier to become leaky, allowing pathogens to invade, attach themselves to exposed cells, penetrate the membrane and kill the cell. The result as an inflammatory infection. Echinacea inhibits the action of hyaluronidase by bonding with it in some way, resulting in a temporary increase in the integrity of the barrier. Fewer pathogens are able to stimulate the destruction of the ground substance. A range of constituents mediate this process, especially a complex polysaccharide called echinacin B. This anti-hyaluronidase action is involved in regeneration of connective tissue destroyed during infection and in the elimination of pathogenic organisms creating the infection. Purified polysaccharides prepared from Echinacea possess a strong activating force on the body's macrophage-mediated defense system. These macrophages initiate the destruction of pathogens and cancer cells. Echinacea activates macrophages by itself, independent of any effect with T-cells. A tumor-inhibiting principle has been found, a oncolytic lipid-soluble hydrocarbon from the essential oil. The echinacosides glycosides appear to be the primary `antibiotics', but there are many other active substances present which probably function synergistically. The polysaccharides possess the best immune stimulating properties and are also antiviral. Other constituents have been shown to possess good anti-tumor, bacteriostatic, and anesthetic activity.

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 About The Author
David Hoffmann BSc (Hons), MNIMHWhilst working in conservation and lecturing in ecology and the eco-crisis for the University of Wales, David Hoffman became convinced that to heal the world, to embrace planetary wholeness and responsibility for it......more
 
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