Native to the north American continent, the Echinacea herb is a perennial plant found growing out from the prairie states northwards up to Pennsylvania, populations of the herb, however, also grow in the cooler northern regions of some of the southern states in the US. This herb has a stout and bristly stem that bears a lot of hairy, and linear or lanceolate leaves, where are tapered at both ends and give it a distinctive shape. The Echinacea is characterized by its flowers, and each one of the distinctive and rich purple flowers bears 12 to 20 large and spread out, dull-purple rays marked by a conical disk consisting of numerous tubular florets in the middle, the plant normally is in full bloom from June through October in most places. There are two distinct species of this well known herb, and a weaker species known as E. purpurea is often used instead of the E. augustifolia for industrial purposes and if the latter species is scarce or too expensive to buy - the more potent and famous of the two plants is the E. augustifolia spp.
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A pleasant sweetish smell and a faint aroma characterizes the Echinacea herb, the herb leaves behind a tingling sensation in the mouth which is almost similar to the taste of aconite herb, but the flavor of the Echinacea is without the lasting sensation of numbness and it is also bereft of any dangerous poison. Freshness and the oldness of the herb can be measured by tasting the Echinacea powder - this is one normal way of determining the freshness of specimens for herbal use.
Extensive literature exist covering all the properties of the Echinacea herb, these writings on the herb have become so vast and the hyperbole given off by its many advocates so extensive that the real property of the herb is now difficult to separate from the false claims. Some of the real uses of this remarkable herb, include the use of the herb in the prevention and treatment of the common cold and the symptoms such as sore throat connected to such infections, in such cases the consumption of an hydro alcoholic extract of the fresh or recently dried whole herb - which must include the above ground portion of the herb will be very effective, indeed, this is one of the main uses of the herb. Echinacea has also been recommended by certain German authorities for use as an herbal remedy, in the supportive or auxiliary role, during the treatment of recurrent infections arising in the urinary and respiratory systems. Topical treatments have also been derived from the herb, and external applications of the herb can be effective and very useful in the complete treatment of all hard to heal wounds superficially affecting the skin. The great benefit of the Echinacea lies in the fact that very significant or great side effects have not been seen or reported from studies, however, remedies made from the herb have been known to trigger certain allergic reactions and some forms of allergies induced by the herb cannot be discounted, this is especially so, with any of the plants in this particular plant family.
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Many years ago, the remedies made from the Echinacea were usually and extensively adulterated with the herb known as the Parthenium integrifolium L., common name - the "prairie dock" or "Missouri snakeroot". This was so extensive that many of the earliest scientific studies done on the herb, had to be invalidated as the Echinacea was often confused with the other plant. For this reason, and because adulteration can never be ruled out even today, all potential users of herbal remedies made from the Echinacea are strongly advised to obtain the very best and high quality products available on the market. All Echinacea users must take time for careful investigation of the product and consider the reputation of the manufacturer before proceeding with the purchase of the Echinacea based remedy - this is a good procedure to follow in the purchase of any other plant extract if possible.
Standards of the Echinacea products in the market have improved these days, and most herbal stores are dominated by the standardized extracts of the many popular herbs and remedies, almost all Echinacea based herbal products now contain the E. angustifolia spp, which are normally standardized to their content for the caffeic acid glycoside echinacoside - a major active compound found in the herb. This particular compound was one of the first compounds which were identified as having a distinct biological activity and the entire genus was attributed with having this chemical. Mild to insignificant bactericidal action was found in the isolated compound during a research conducted on the plant extract in the 1950s - when the properties of the herb were beginning to come into repute. The extracted main compound was identified as being a distinct chemical marker of the E. angustifolia spp, and believed to mark out its identity. This result was, however, subsequently discarded as the active compound was identified in additional Echinacea species in the course of other studies conducted on the genus. The immuno-stimulatory activity displayed by the herb has not been connected to the compound echinacoside, as far as it is known, this compound is not involved in this particular property of the Echinacea herb. What can be inferred from this is that, the compound remains meaningless as a likely chemical marker for the establishment of the identity of the herb and is also useless as a distinct compound to predict any biological activity induced by the herbal remedy.
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Before a definite conformation about the reputed efficacy of Echinacea in the treatment of various conditions in human subjects can be made, a lot of experiments must be conducted on suitable human subjects. Only at such times, will a definitive statement regarding the utility of the Echinacea herb as a modern therapeutic agent seem feasible. It remains to be said, at the same time, the herb remains a botanical and deserves not only the continued attention by plant scientists and clinicians but also further investigations of its remedial properties.
Echinacea was traditionally used by the North American Comanche tribe used as an herbal remedy for toothaches and sore throats. While the Sioux, another major North American tribe, used it for the treatment of rabies, any snakebite, and for all septic conditions arising from injury.
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The ability of the herb to enhance and boost the performance of the immune system is well known traditionally and has been extensively documented down the years. In addition, the herbal remedies made from the Echinacea possess an antibiotic action and also act like interferons in their anti-viral action within the body. The herbal remedy is also known to have an amazing fungicidal effect and it is extensively used as an anti-allergenic herbal remedy. Some studies have also recorded the Echinacea as possessing an anti-tumor activity. Most native American tribes used herbal preparations of the Echinacea herb for many topical herbal treatments including the healing of all physical wounds and for the treatment of snake bites, the herbal remedy was also used in the treatment of infected conditions, it was used in the treatment of sore throats and to treat burns on the skin. Nowadays, the herbal remedies derived from the Echinacea herb also function as a blood cleansing remedy for the holistic treatment of various skin problems including boils and all types of topical and internal abscesses, the herbal remedy is also used in the treatment of all kinds of allergies, and related skin conditions like the eczema and urticaria, it is increasingly used in the treatment of different types of infections such as tonsillitis, the common colds, the flu, and various other chest infections. The herbal remedy is also used in the treatment of asthma, and other viral diseases like the glandular fever, it is also used in the treatment of candidiasis and to suppress post-viral fatigue syndrome in patients. Research is still being conducted on the possible beneficial effects of Echinacea treatment on symptoms of HIV and AIDS in patients. Respiratory problems and chilblains are also treated using the herbal remedies prepared from the Echinacea herb, and the herb is known to be very effective against throat infections, when it is used as an oral gargling solution.
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The circulation of blood in the body is benefited by the stimulating effect of the Echinacea herb, this is especially true when the herb is taken in the form of a hot infusion, the hot herbal infusion also helps by stimulating the process of sweating and this rapidly brings the fevers down, while at the same time enhancing the natural defenses of the body and enabling the immune system to shake off the infection, which has induced the condition of fever initially. Echinacea also possesses a strong anti-inflammatory effect on the body, this ability is particularly important in the treatment of long term arthritis and in the treatment of gout. This property of the herb is also good for all types of inflammatory conditions affecting the reproductive system in women; these can include disorders such as the common pelvic inflammatory disease and related conditions. The immediate use of Echinacea must be contemplated when the first signs and symptoms of disease become apparent, in order to take full advantage of its strong immune-enhancing properties. If the herbal remedy is given during the early stages of the infection, this ability will help in the rapid clearing of the infection, this quick use of the herbal remedy during the early stages of infection is especially important for individuals with weak and run down immune functioning or malfunctioning immune systems - the deficient functioning system will be buffered by the herbal remedy and greater protection will be afforded to people who are prone to get one infection after another in succession.
Echinacea has been attributed various beneficial and positive activities and actions in the body. The most important and the probably the best substantiated is its effect as an immune system stimulant. Three different and distinct bio-chemical mechanisms are said to be bring about by this particular property of the herb inside the body, one is the stimulation by the herb of phagocytosis, the second is the herbs ability to increase the rate of respiratory activity, and the third is the ability of the herb to cause an increased mobility of the leukocytes within the body. At the same time, the exact causes and the actual reason or the principles behind the remedial action remains a mystery for further research to uncover over time. Some generalizations can be arrived at the high-molecular-weight polysaccharides are effective without a doubt in some way throughout the process, the stimulation of phagocytosis however, is apparently enhanced by other components connected to the alkamide fraction-mainly isobutylamides, it is also pushed ahead by the glycoproteins in the herb, and by the action of the cichoric acid in the remedy.
The herb is a native species of the central areas of the North American continent and mainly the central US. Cultivation of the Echinacea, and in particular the E. purpurea spp, which is easier to manage, is now run commercially both in Europe and in many parts of the US. The herb is grown from the stored seeds during the spring and it is also propagated at times by root division during the winter, the herb thrives in very rich and sandy soils. Harvesting of the Echinacea flowers occur when the plants are in full bloom, and the roots of 4-year-old plants are gathered normally, during the autumn season.
All of the positive effects induce by Echinacea in the human body as yet not understood completely. However, what is known is that the immune system is stimulated by a number of chemical constituents found in the Echinacea herb and these serve to effectively counter both the bacterial as well as viral infections which can easily affect the body at any time. Echinacea constituent polysaccharides are identified as possessing a definite anti-hyaluronidase action within the human body, these acts to effectively inhibit the general ability of invading viruses and impair their ability to take over cells in the body. The bactericidal and fungicidal action of the Echinacea derived compounds known as alkamides is also well known and considered as one of its most important properties. The body's immune system is in general, very greatly affected and boosted by the Echinacea, the herb is a general stimulatory agent effect on the immune defenses. For this reason, the herb is being seriously investigated as a possible treatment for impaired immune systems in patients down with HIV and AIDS - this is an ongoing research.
Germany has been the leading nation in Echinacea specific studies and the majority of the scientific and clinical studies carried out on the Echinacea have been done in Germany. The experiments have mostly utilized dosage forms which are prepared from fresh plucked stems, leaves and flowers of the E. purpurea spp. These preparations are used as test herbal infusions to be administered in to the body directly through injections and at times they are also applied locally on the test sites in the body. The United States still does not allow the injectable herbal preparations, and it will take some time before they become available in the market at large. The relative effectiveness of oral supplements of the Echinacea remains mired in considerable controversy and debate among herbalists around the world. The liquid form of the Echinacea herb is the form which is currently most readily available anywhere - the hydro-alcoholic extract is the specific marketed liquid form of the herb. The suggestion for the actual performance and supposed greater effectiveness such liquid forms of the herb is that such herbal preparations tend to stimulate the formation of lymphatic tissues inside the mouth, which initiates an immune response from the body. If this scenario is true, than one can only assume that the cases where the powdered Echinacea form of herbal remedy was administered orally either in capsules or as tablets - then those remedies may possibly prove to be less active on the whole compared to the liquid form of the herbal remedy.
The herbal remedies made from the Echinacea are best taken for specified lengths of time, especially when they are used to stimulate the immune system of patients. The herbal remedy can be used thrice or four times every day as soon as the first signs of a cold develop - the total treatment duration should be about ten to fourteen days at a stretch for maximum effectiveness. The herbal remedies can also be used in the prevention of colds; individuals can utilize the Echinacea tablets or the capsule form, thrice every day for a treatment period lasting six to eight weeks at a time. The longer Echinacea is used, the more reduced do its overall effects on the body tend to be, and for this reason, it is suggested that a "rest" period be resorted to during and of these long term treatment regimens - periods of rest must accompany all treatment regimens which exceed ten days at a stretch. The powdered form of the Echinacea can be taken in doses of about 900 mg whenever required. The dosage regimens for the liquid Echinacea extract are normally taken at a dosage rate of 3 - 4ml per dose, taken thrice every day of the treatment period.
If used orally, the herbal remedies made from the Echinacea are essentially nontoxic in nature and produce no side effects. However, the use of Echinacea by certain individuals must be under the supervision of a doctor or following consulting with a qualified physician, this is the case if such individuals are affected by any form of autoimmune illnesses, including the condition known as lupus, or even any other progressive diseases, including tuberculosis and multiple sclerosis especially, if the person has been affected by the condition over the long period of time. Echinacea must be used with extreme caution by all individuals who develop allergic reactions to the flowers of the daisy family - as the Echinacea flowers might also trigger some allergic response for the body. Pregnant and lactating women can use the Echinacea remedies in the same way as other people, and in similar doses to other safe herbs, as there does not seem to be any known contraindications with the therapeutic use of Echinacea during a term of pregnancy or its use by nursing mothers.
Research is continuing on the way the Echinacea herb works on the immune system and how it controls it from within. That the various polysaccharides play a major role in the prevention of viral entry into the cells of the body is evident, and these keep the virus particles from taking hold in any of the cells in the body. The herbal action is particularly effectively in the stimulation of the white T-cells inside the immune system in the body, these immune system cells help the body in fighting off any infection and help in keeping the body in a healthy condition. The other chemical constituents of the herb also help in dealing with the problem, a bactericidal action is performed by the alkaloids, these chemical compounds are also very active against all kinds of fungal infection affecting the body. The blood cleansing action of the Echinacea is also well known and it is used as an effective herbal alterative, it is also used to clear the skin, it helps in clearing away internal as well as external boils and in the treatment of all other skin disorders and diseases.
Echinacea is essentially better and more effective the fresher it is. The preservation of freshness is very high priority to some manufacturers, who often go to great lengths to preserve the freshness of the herbal product. Some of these manufacturers produce the herbal liquid or powdered extracts from plants taken straight from the field without any previous period of storing or stocking. The roots of the Echinacea are traditionally known to lose their potency when they are exposed to air, to warmth, or to the moisture in the air, for more than a few months at a time - the herbal product can be ruined in some cases, even when the exposure is for a few weeks. The cut or powdered herb is particularly vulnerable to spoilage in this way and extreme care is needed while handling these herbal products. When taking bulk orders of the Echinacea from any herbal store, it is best to buy the whole root of the herb, instead of the powdered herb as the root will keep better and for longer periods of time - if this is not possible, then at least, large pieces of the root must be purchased. Degradation can also quickly occur in the powdered herb packed into capsules or tablets - this comes about, as both plastic bottles and gelatin capsules often give access to air. The tablets and capsules however, do not degrade as quickly as the bulk powder. It must also be mentioned that, the herbal capsules which are kept packed within glass bottles can often last much longer than those which are packed in plastic containers.
The fact is that there are negative and positive sides to both products. The capsules have two distinct pros, one is that they are convenient and two, they are very cost-effective. The manufacturer's date - which is not the same as the expiration date, stamped on the bottle must be checked before you opt for the herbal capsules. The best option in such cases, is to purchase bottles which are very recent and never buy bottles with products, which are more than a year old - the herbal product will have lost all potency in that time period. Any bottle without a distinct manufacturers date stamp should not be purchased as one can never be sure about, how old the herbal product within the bottle really is and it is also impossible to guess the potency of the herbal product. Checking the difference between the date of manufacture and the expiration date of the herbal product is always a good idea, and if you find a product with only the expiration date, it is a good idea to ask the store owner or to call the manufacturer to find out the connection and time period involved between manufacture date and expiration period.
Herbal tinctures and liquid extracts are the most durable and longest lasting forms of all Echinacea herbal preparations in the market. When stored in amber bottles and away from direct heat and sunlight, these herbal remedies can even retain their potency for up to two and even three years at a time - in general, these forms of the herbal remedy keep well for long periods of time compared to the other products. The alcohol content of the herbal tincture and liquid extracts is the major drawback of these forms of the herbal remedy, as the alcohol content can often irritate and may not be acceptable to some people and for use with minors. One option in such cases is to dilute the herbal drops and tinctures in water or in fruit juices and then these can be placed directly in boiled water so as to evaporate the majority of the alcohol in the tincture.