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Echinacea angustifolia / Cone flower.
Echinacea angustifolia has a long history of use by the First nations peoples of Northern America. It was primarily used for snake bites and for slow healing wounds and ulcers. It is acrid and warm, and has a diaphoretic action. Its main use is as an antibacterial antiviral herb. In the early part of the 20th century the German company Madaus imported seeds of Echinacea back to Europe and started growing and analysing the plant. They brought back seeds of Echinacea purpurea which has no traditional usage. The third species used is Echinacea pallida which again has no known traditional usage.
Now Echinacea is mostly used in 2 ways:
As treatment especially at the onset of infections e.g. colds, flu, respiratory infections. Especially where there are lymph glands involvement.
As an Immune tonic people will take a relatively low dose on a daily basis to strengthen their immune system and prevent infections (respiratory especially). This is where the advice often given is to take for 3 weeks and have a week off. There is no specific medical reason to do this, just common sense dictates that it may be a good idea.
Echinacea has in some circles acquired the tag of being akin to a Herbal Antibiotic. Now while its beneficial effects are well recognised it is not really the same. As an aside, it is not especially wise to take antibiotics preventatively as they do tend to weaken the function of the immune system, and would not work as effectively if needed in an acute situation.
Traditionally it is a sweet taste that is regarded as being the taste associated with tonics, and Echinacea is really not sweet; maybe pungent and acrid, but not sweet. There are great herbs that are tonics and which are sweet things such as Astragalus and certain types of Ginseng like Siberian Ginseng are much more applicable as tonics.
Our recommendation therefore is to take Echinacea as a treatment for infections. Ideally from the beginning of an infection, and throughout its duration. It is often possible to get Echinacea mixed with other herbs such as Hydrastis (Golden seal) which is very good for yellow catarrh hence their use together in respiratory infections. Echinacea is often taken in combination with Baptisia tinctoria Wild Indigo. This is very similar to a Chinese herb Isatis Indigotica which is called Ban lan gen (a very close relative of this plant is known to us as Woad) which the Chinese take in a similar way to Echinacea for infections.