Echinacea is an herb belonging to the family of Asteraceae, which is a coneflower. It is an herbaceous flowering plant. Echinacea is endemic to North America where it is grown in dry to moist prairies and even in wooded areas. Echinacea was named after a Greek word meaning sea urchin because of its spiny central disk. Echinacea was widely used for its general medicinal uses starting the 19th century. It has become popular in USA and Europe as an herbal remedy.
The active substances in Echinacea responsible for its medicinal use are phenols such as caftaric acid, cichoric acid and echinacoside. These active substances may have direct antimicrobial properties or have indirect immunomodulating effects enhancing the immune system. Echinacea may also have antiviral and antifungal properties.
Echinacea herbal supplements are manufactured from the roots as well as the leaves and the flowers of the herb. The most commonly used varieties are Echinacea pallida, Echinacea purpurea, and Echinacea angustifolia
Uses of Echinacea
Echinacea has been a popular herb for the past years because of its vast medicinal sues. These include:
Echinacea has the ability to improve and boost the immune system by stimulating the non-specific immune system of people. According to studies, taking Echinacea may reduce the chances of getting a cold by half.
Cold and sore throat remedy
Aside from possible prevention of cold, Echinacea can also shorten the duration of a cold by 1 to 2 days. The juice from the flowering herb is usually taken to treat colds. It is also useful in limiting symptoms of sore throat such as itching and dryness of the pharynx.
Traditional use of Echinacea includes being a laxative.
Analgesic and Headache remedy
The Native Americans also used Echinacea as a remedy for body pains and headache.
Echinacea should be taken at the very first sign of colds in order to become effective. Subsequent doses are given every two to three hours until cold symptoms disappear.
Echinacea Side effects
Echinacea does not usually cause Echinacea side effects when taken by mouth because of being a natural herb. Echinacea side-effects tend to be rare, reversible and mild in nature, making Echinacea safe for human use.
The most common Echinacea side effects include skin and gastrointestinal Echinacea side effects. These include:
1. Integumentary Echinacea side effects
Patients who may be sensitive to Echinacea may develop mild itching that may be resolved after the use of the herb.
Rash may also develop on the arms, chest and legs and few on the face when Echinacea is taken in huge amounts as a result of reactions to excessive levels of Echinacea in the body.
2. Gastrointestinal Echinacea side effects
The gastrointestinal Echinacea side effects are rooted on the possible increase in the bacteroides in the GIT that may disrupt the normal flora in the GIT. Nausea is a possible Echinacea side effect as a result of this.
Bloating and Abdominal pain
The growth of bacteroides in the intestines may also result in bloating and abdominal pain.
Diarrhea many be a common Echinacea side effect as a result of taking too much of the herb. Since there is disruption in the normal flora, other opportunistic pathogens may invade causing loose bowel movements. The presence of high level of bacteroides may also lead to diarrhea as the body’s way to eliminate the microorganisms.
3. Other Echinacea Side effects
Asthma may be an allergic reaction to Echinacea. Asthma may cause wheezing and shortness of breath as the lungs undergo an inflammatory response as a response to the allergen. Patients allergic to marigolds, ragweed, chrysanthemum and daisies may also be allergic to Echinacea.
Anaphylaxis is a rare severe allergic reaction when one is taking Echinacea. This may also result in those who are really allergic to the herb. Patients experiencing anaphylaxis may exhibit difficulty of breathing and other allergic symptoms such as watery eyes, runny nose, development of hives and wheezing.
Muscle and joint pains
Patients taking Echinacea was also observed to manifest these Echinacea side effects; however, it is unclear whether the herb caused the symptoms or they were present as cold symptoms in patients experiencing flu or colds.
Other rare Echinacea side-effects include thrombocytopenia purpura, leukopenia, atrial fibrillations, and disorientation. However, there is a weak correlation; thereby these Echinacea side effects are loosely linked to Echinacea use and may be a result of other factors. Patients may also suffer from mild Echinacea side effects such as dry mouth, unpleasant taste, tingling sensation on the tongue and sore throat as a result of localized effects of the herb.
Despite the Echinacea side effects, it is still safe to take Echinacea as an herbal remedy. The Echinacea side effects usually arise when there is unregulated or prolonged use of more than 10 days. Echinacea side effects may be prevented by taking the recommended dosage of Echinacea supplements in order to get the desired effects and prevent the occurrence of Echinacea side-effects. Nevertheless, Echinacea is still advantageous, so proper use should be employed.
Other medicine side effects should be monitored when taking medications such as Glucophage side effects.