Photograph © 2000, Lucy Canter Kihlstrom, PhD.
Introduction: It is important to note that Echinacea products should be evaluated carefully since there are several different species, purpurea, pallida, and angustifolia. In addition, the positive medicinal evidence depends not only on the species, but also the part of the plant (roots, leaves or whole plant) as well as on the stage of the plant's development.
Medicinal Parts: Two of the varieties have been approved for medicinal use by the Commission E in Germany: the Echinacea purpurea herb which consists of the fresh or dried above-ground parts and the Echinacea pallida root. The other varieties and parts have not been approved because of the lack of clinical trials. However, the World Health Organization (1999) concluded that the angustifolia root (but not the above-ground parts) also has medicinal value.
Demonstrated Uses: The purpurea herb has demonstrated effectiveness as supportive therapy for colds and chronic infections of the respiratory tract and lower urinary tract. However, it is not clear that this herb prevents urinary tract infections. Externally, it has been used effectively on poorly healing wounds.
The pallida root has usefulness as a supportive therapy for flu-like infections.
The angustifolia root has usefulness as a supportive therapy for colds and infections of the respiratory and urinary tracts.
How it Works: Echinacea preparations when taken internally have produced immune effects. For example, the number of white blood cells and spleen cells is increased and can effect an improvement in the human defense system where those systems are temporarily weakened.
Precautions: There are little to no side effects or contraindications. However, echinacea should not be used when progressive systemic diseases such as tuberculosis, leukosis, collagenosis, multiple sclerosis, AIDS, HIV infection, and other autoimmune diseases are present. Also, echinacea should be avoided during pregnancy. In individual cases, allergic reactions could occur.
Daily Dosage: The recommended dosage of the purpurea herb in pressed juice form is 6 to 9 ml. When taking this herb through means other than ingestion, such as by intravenous or intramuscular injection, the dosage should be individualized depending upon the nature of the preparation and the seriousness of the condition. A gradation of dosage for this type of application is required, especially for children. If a preparation containing at least 15% pressed juice is used externally, it should be used for a maximum of eight weeks.
If a liquid preparation for oral use is made from the pallida root, the daily dosage is 900 mg and should be used for a maximum of eight weeks.
The angustifolia root is supplied in capsule and liquid form. For colds, drink one cup freshly made tea several times daily.
Storage: All varieties of echinacea should be protected from light sources and should not be stored in pulverized or powdered form, if possible.
World Health Organization (WHO). (1999). "Herba Echinaceae Purpurae Radix Echinacea" and "Radix Echinaceae." WHO Monographs on Selected Medicinal Plants, Vol. 1., 136-144; 125-135. Geneva: World Health Organization.