I’m often asked whether Echinacea really is a helpful herb to take to prevent or speed recovery from colds and flu. And whether it’s safe to take if you have an autoimmune disorder such a chronic fatigue syndrome or psoriasis, or an allergy, when the immune system has gone awry.
Firstly, Echinacea has a long tradition as an immune-enhancing herb. If you’re tired, rundown and stressed out, your immune system will struggle to protect you against any ‘bugs’ that are going round, such as colds and flu. By strengthening your immune system, Echinacea can reduce the risk of you going down with something and, if you do, reduce the severity of the illness.
I find Echinacea is very effective at ‘knocking a virus on the head’ if taken at the very first sign of a cold, ie when you get that familiar fuzzy head, scratchy throat, tickly cough of snuffly nose. We all know the signs.
How effective Echinacea is depends on lots of things, including how rundown your immune system was to start with, and the quality of the Echinacea you are taking. There are many different brands that can be bought on the high street and internet, and it can be a bit of a lottery finding a good one. In any case, you’re unlikely to find Echinacea anywhere near the strength used by a reputable, qualified herbalist. I have what is known as 1:1 and/or 1:2 Echinacea tinctures in my dispensary. This means one part herb to one or two parts of water/alcohol. Commercial brands of Echinacea are generally 1:4 at best, and often 1:10 or less.
The efficacy of the herb also depends on which species of Echinacea, and which part of the plant, is used.
Herbalists are legally only allowed to sell herbs to someone following a consultation. This is primarily for safety reasons, but also will influence how effective treatment is likely to be, as herbal medicine is prescribed on an individual basis. Obviously, you’re unlikely to pay for a consultation because you think you’re going down with a cold, but I am able to provide remedies, including Echinacea, for acute ailments such as coughs, colds and flu to patients already on my books.
With regard to whether or not Echinacea can be taken by someone with an autoimmune disorder, the answer is yes, it can sometimes be very helpful. Echinacea is an immunomodulator, rather than an immunostimulant, which means it helps the immune system find the right balance and ‘normalise’ its function. But it’s strongly advisable to use it in this way under the supervision of a qualified herbal practitioner.
In my experience, when good quality Echinacea is taken, in the right circumstances, it can be an amazingly effective therapeutic herb.