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Herbal Monograph

Herb:  Echinacea Root  (Echinacea spp; Echinacea angustifolia)

Other Names:  purple coneflower, black sampson, niggerhead, rudbeckia, sampson root  (2)

Character/Energetics:   slightly sweet, then bitter, leaving a tingly sensation on the tongue;  faintly aromatic  (2);  bitter, pungent, cool   (6)

Meridians/Organs/Body Parts affected:  lungs, stomach, liver  (6);   blood, lymph, kidneys  (14)

Parts used:  root and aerial portions (6) flower less commonly used than root.  (15)

Identification & Harvesting:  A key to species identification is that E. angustifolia and purpurea have yellow pollen while pallida is paler and has white pollen.  (1)

Flower-heads are large and solitary with spreading ray florets, reddish and occasionally white, and conspicuous.  Usually perennial, up to 45 cm high.  Leaves are sparse, lanceolate to linear, rough, 7-20 cm long.  Rhizome is 1 cm in diam., with a thin bark and yellowish, porous wood flecked with black.  E. angustifolia grows in western US and Europe.  Not to be confused with Parthenium integrifoium   (2)

Harvest in autumn.  Fresh extract is more effective than dried root.  (8)

Large, robust daisylike plants of the aster family.  E. angustifolia is harvested from the prairies of midwestern US.  Some commercial cultivation has developed to compensate for its scarcity in the wild.    (61)

Active Constituents: volatile oils (under .1%) — epishyobunol, beta-farnesene, alpha- and beta-pinenes, myrcene, carvomenthene (sp?), caryophyllene (sp?); flavonoids; caffeic acid derivatives: cichoriic acid, chlorogenic acid, isochlorogenic acid, verbacoside, echinacoside; alkamides: including dodeca-2E,4E-8Z,10E-tetracetylisobutylamide; polyynes (sp?):  including trideca-1-en-3,5,7,9,11-pentaine, pontica epoxide; water-soluble immunostimulating polysaccharides:  (rhamno-arabinogalactans);  non-alkylatingly effective pyrrolizidine alkaloids:  tussilagine, isotussilagine  (2)

According to herbalist Steven Foster there are approx. nine species of echinacea, all of which are native to North America. The Eclectic physicians of the early 20th century preferred E. angustifolia but other varieties including, E. pallida, and the most common and domesticated E. purpurea, are of relatively similar therapeutic effectiveness. Additional varieties incl: E. simulata and E. paradoxa.

The biochemistry includes “an essential oil containing the oncolytic hydrocarbon (z) ‑1, 8‑ Pentadecadiene; polysaccharide 1 (a heteroxylan) containing arabinose, xylose, glactose, glucose and 4.0‑methylgluronic acid; polysaccharide 2 (an arabinorhamnogalactic) containing rhamnose, arabinose, galactose, and glucuroronic acid; echinacen (an isoabutylkylamide comprising 0.01% of the dried root of E. angustifolia and 0.001% of the dried root E. pallida); echinolone (appolyacetylene compound from E. angustifolia); echinacoside (a glycoside found in E. angustifolia, at concentrations of 1% of root preparations); echinacin B; an unsaturated aliphatic sesquiterpene, betain; inulin; inuloid; fructose; sucrose; higher fatty acids; 6.9% protein in air dried roots of E. angustifolia,  5.3% in E. purpurea; tannin; vitamin C; enzymes; an unidentified glucoside; resin; acids and thirteen polyacetylene  compounds.”  (6);  volatile oil, glycoside, echinaceine, phenolics  (8);  amides, antibiotic polyacetylenes, inulin  (15)

Actions: In vitro, a 23% increase in phagocytic elements was noted when an alcoholic root extract was tested in granulocyte smears.  The immune system is non-specifically stimulated.  Possesses an antibacterial and biostatic effect.  In animal experiments, herb is a tumor inhibitor and has an anti-edemic effect on induced rat paw edemas.  (2);  alterative, carminative, stimulant, vulnerary   (6); anti-microbial, alterative (8); lymphatic, parasiticide, sialagogue, blood cleanser (14);  improves digestion (57)

Enhances the particle-ingestion capacity of white blood cells and other specialized immune-system cells, increasing their ability to attack invaders such as cold or flu viruses.  Stimulates immune system before, or during infection.  Studies show it decreases symptoms and duration of flu-like infections.  No single chemical component has been identified as the primary principle.    (61)

Conditions and Uses: Used to support and promote the natural immune system, especially in infectious conditions of the nose and throat, inflammatory and purulent wounds, abscesses, furuncles, herpes simplex, inflammation of connective tissue, wounds, headaches, metabolic disturbances. (2)

Echinacea stimulates the body’s immune system against all infectious and inflammatory conditions, counteracts pus, and stimulates digestion. It specifically strengthens the immune system against pathogenic infection by stimulating phagocytosis, T‑cell formation, and by inhibiting the hyalurinadase enzyme secreted by bacteria to effect the breakdown of cell walls and the formation of pus. Echinacea is one of the most powerful and effective remedies against all kinds of bacterial and viral infections. It should be taken frequently, every hour or two during acute stages of inflammation, tapering off as symptoms improve. There are no generally recognized side effects of echinacea overdose, but the author has noted a peculiar scratchy, tickling sensation in the throat from excessive use.    (6)        

Effective against both bacterial and viral attacks, against boils and septicemia, snake and spider bites.  Esp. useful for infections of the upper respiratory tract such as laryngitis, tonsillitis, catarrhal conditions of the nose and sinus.  May be used as a mouthwash against pyorrhea and gingivitis, also as an external lotion for septic sores and cuts.  (8)

Internal — Acne:  tincture, fluid extract, powder.  Bad breath: tincture, fluid extract, powder.  Bladder infections:  tincture, fluid extract, infusion, decoction.  Blood poisoning:  tincture, fluid extract.  Blood purifier:  tincture, fluid extract.  Boils:  tincture, fluid extract, powder.  Fevers:  tincture, fluid extract.  Gangrene:  tincture, fluid extract, powder.  Infections:  tincture, fluid extract, powder.  Inflammation of mammary glands:  tincture, fluid extract.  Leukopenia:  tincture, fluid extract, powder.  Lymphatic congestion:  tincture, fluid extract, powder.  Skin diseases:  tincture, fluid extract, powder.  Tonsillitis:  tincture, fluid extract, powder.  Uremic poisoning:  tincture, fluid extract, powder.  Venereal 

      ECHINACEA ROOT     (Echinacea spp; Echinacea angustifolia)

diseases:  tincture, fluid extract, powder.

External — Open wounds:  fomentation, tincture.  Painful swellings:  fomentation, tincture.    (14)

Use in 10 ml doses for food poisoning or snakebite; used w/bearberry & yarrow for cystitis  (15)

Used in fermentative dyspepsia;  of special importance in typhoid and other fevers.  (57)

Native Americans used it for everything from colds to cancer.  Currently used to treat and prevent colds, heal infections.    (61)

Combinations: In combination with yarrow or bearberry, it will effectively stop cystitis.  (8); combine with myrrh to rid the body of pus or abscess formations.  (14);  for more chronic conditions, use standard doses and combine with other suitable herbs, such as buchu and couchgrass for kidney infections, or cleavers for glandular fever.  Combine with marshmallow to treat boils.  (15)

Precautions: Because of conceivable activation of autoimmune aggressions and other overactive immune responses, herb should not be administered in presence of MS, leukoses, collagenoses, AIDS or tuberculosis.  Parenteral [sic] administration should not be used in patients with tendencies to allergies, esp. allergies to members of the composite family (Asteraceae), as well as in pregnancy.  No known risks or side effects with proper administration of therapeutic dosages.  When used parenterally [sic], dose-dependent short-term fever reactions, nausea and vomiting can occur.  In individual cases, immediate allergic reactions are possible.  Caution should be exercised if herb is administered parenterally to diabetics.  (2);  high doses can occasionally cause nausea and dizziness.  (15); 

Cautions with echinacea in auto immune disease?– By Paul Bergner

A German regulatory commission has recently listed several contraindications for echinacea, including “progressive systemic diseases like tuberculosis, leukosis, collagen disorders, or multiple sclerosis.” This class of diseases would include auto immune conditions such as systemic lupus.

Bergner recounts a patient with a severe exacerbation of an auto immune disease possibly due to taking echinacea (and a) lupus patients who told him that echinacea had caused a worsening of flare‑ups…And (another patient who) had an aggravation of ulcerative colitis within twenty-four hours of beginning to take echinacea for the first time….Due to the rarity of reports of such instances, the word “contraindication” is too strong, but practitioners may be prudent to carefully observe reactions to the use of echinacea in auto immune conditions, especially in patients undergoing an acute exacerbation or whose condition is kept in precarious balance with immunosuppressive drugs.  (30)

Studies show taking echinacea for more than 6-8 weeks can damage the immune system.    (1c)

May cause liver problems when general anesthetic is used.    (1d)

Persons allergic to pollen of other members of the aster family, such as ragweed, may also be allergic to echinacea.  The German government recommends that non-specific immunostimulants such as echinacea should be avoided in cases of autoimmune disorders, such as tuberculosis, MS, and HIV:  it will potentiate the disease’s activity in the body.    (61)

Tincturing Process:  Vita Mix: (Speed 5)–Place 5-6 ladles echinacea root c/s in VM container. 

Process 90 seconds. 380 gr Echinacea: 1650 ml menstruum. 65% alcohol. (1a)

Applications: Root tea is prepared using 1/2 teaspoonful comminuted drug with boiling water.  Strain    after 10 min.  (2);  Decoction:  1-2 tsp root in 1 c. water and bring slowly to boil.  Let simmer for 10-15 min.  Drink 3 x daily.  (8); Decoction— simmer 5-15 min, 1 tbsp 3-6 x daily;  Tincture — 30-60 drops 3-6 x daily; Fluid extract — 1/2 to 1 tsp 3-6 x daily

Powder — 2-5 #0 capsules (15-30 grains) 3-6 x daily  (14); Wash — use decoction or diluted tincture frequently for infected wounds;  Gargle — use 10 ml tincture in a glass of warm water for sore throat; Powder — use as a dust for boils (combine with marshmallow) or weeping, infected eczema. Capsules — three 200 mg capsules up to 3 x daily at onset of acute infections.  (15)

Divination:  XIV  Temperance  

Echinacea is an herb of purification that stimulates the body’s innate defenses.  It  “tempers”         heat, and as a tonic it regulates all inflammatory processes.  This herbal antibiotic can be         used every two hours for any infected, inflamed condition.

Symbolically used for:  Achieving strength through purity;  beauty emanates from one  who is pure in      heart.  Protecting oneself from heated and angry situations.

Divinatory Meanings:  To strengthen oneself against harmful outside influences.  Fortification.  Testing                      oneself.  Strength gained from challenges.

Reverse Meaning: Taking dangerous and foolish chances. A gambler. Vulnerability. Risk.    c, y   (52)

Dosage: for colds, drink 1 c. freshly made tea several times daily  (2);   standard infusion or 3‑9 gms.;     tincture, 10‑30 drops  (6);  Decoction — 10 ml doses every 1-2 hrs during acute stage of   infections.  Tincture — 2-5 ml doses every 2-3 hrs for flu, chills, UTI’s, during first couple days             of acute symptoms.  (15)

Up to 3.6 g. capsules daily.  Tincture 60 drops 3 x daily.  Use as needed.  Take continuously for two weeks, and follow with a rest period of one week.    (61)

General Notes: “It has proved a useful drug in improving the body’s own resistance in infectious conditions of all kinds…” — Rudolf Weiss, 1985

Considered more potent than other species of Echinacea by some practitioners.  (15)

The broad chemical composition suggests synergistic effects among constituents.  Notable immunostimulants are inulin and the high molecular weight (25,000-50,000) polysaccharides.  (1)

Echinacea is the original “snake oil”.  In the 1880’s, Dr. H.C.F. Meyer of Pawnee City, Nebraska, learned of echinacea from local Indians, made it into a liquid extract.  He was so confident in it that on numerous occasions he allowed himself to be bitten by rattlesnakes, whereupon he would consume the remedy and experience no harsh effects from the snake bites.  (1b)

Use in formal medicine began in 1895;  the preeminent herb well into the 1920’s;  later replaced by antibiotics in the US, although its use did not decline in Europe, and has been prescribed millions of times.  Joniris RD Note — [Note the turnaround;  preeminent in medicine, replaced by antibiotics;  and now that antibiotics have an achilles heel, the mutative abilities of microbes, echinacea has grown more popular.  Speculate that antibiotics will still serve as the primary “shock troops” of the US medical establishment, to fight severe, acute infections, but that immunostimulant herbs will take up the slack and hopefully reduce the incidence of acute infection in the first place.]    (61)



(1)  Cayuga Botanicals Research Data, Dr. James Downey;

(1a)  ibid “Echinacea” Tincture file

(1b) ibid Research Data, Nature’s Field, July/Aug 1998, back cover

(1c) ibid Research Data, “Center:  Caution with Herbs, Supplements” by Ridgely Ochs, Newsday, June 10, 1999;  quoting Dr. Howard Mofenson of the Long Island Regional Poison Control Center

(1d) ibid Research Data, “Body News” by Dianne Partie Lange, Allure, Feb. ’99, p. 70

(2)  PDR for Herbal Medicines (Medical Economics Co., 1998), pgs. 816-819

(6) Planetary Herbology by Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., pgs. 190-191

(8)  The New Holistic Herbal by David Hoffman, p. 197

(14) Natural Healing With Herbs by Humbart Santillo BS, MH, pgs. 112-13

(15) The Complete Medicinal Herbal by Penelope Ody, p. 53

(30) Medical Herbalism, Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer 1997

(52) The Herbal Tarot Deck (Created by Michael Tierra and Designed by Candis Cantin), p. 12

(57) Potter’s Cyclopaedia by R.C. Wren, F.L.S., p. 125

(61) 101 Medicinal Herbs by Steven Foster, pgs. 70-71


PHOTO: NC State University Extension