Throughout North American prairies, plains, and open woodlands.
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.
Anti-microbial, immunomodulator, anti-catarrhal, alterative.
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 is 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, an 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 that 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.
This all points to the conclusion that its actions relate to immune system functioning on some level, helping deal with infections and stimulating the immune response. It activates the macrophages that destroy both cancerous cells and pathogens, increases the level of phagocytosis by raising levels of white blood cells such as the neutrophils, monocytes, eosinophils, and B lymphocytes. It also has an effect on properidin levels, indication an activation of the complement system.
Decoction: put 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the root in one cup of water and bring it slowly to boil. Let it simmer for 10-15 minutes. This should be drunk three times a day.
Tincture: take 1-4 ml of the tincture three times a day.
Echinacea is often, inappropriately, used as a daily immune support (whatever that is!). A quote from Dr. Daniel Mowrey's excellent review of Echinacea in Next Generation Herbal Medicine is pertinent here:
"Daily intake should be restricted to what is deemed necessary. During cold and flu season, two to four capsules per day is sufficient. In the presence of acute infection, that dosage may be increased, without danger, to more than 8 capsules. In the presence of chronic infections, such as chronic hepatitis, echinacea may be used continuously for several months. However, for the maintenance of a healthy immune system, echinacea is most wisely used periodically--a few weeks on, and a few weeks off, throughout the year. Echinacea is not a tonic in all aspects; granted that it has been observed to stabilize the production of neutrophils, such tonic action has not been observed on other immune factors, such as properdin production. In the absence of conclusive experimental findings, it is both safe and wise to assume that the constant, unremitting use of echinacea could be stressful on certain aspects of the immune system. During breaks, the immune system will adapt and increase in natural strength."