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Echinacea Uses and Benefits - image to repin / share
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Echinacea - Other Names, Past and Present
Greek (etymological origin): echino
Chinese: zizhuiju / zong lu pi
Japanese: ekinasea (transliterated from "echinacea")
French: echinacee / echinacee pourpre / racine d'echininacea / fleur a herisson
Italian: equinacea / equinacea purpura
German: purpursonnenhutkraut / purpursonnenhutwurzel / roter sonnenhut
Dutch: rudbeckie pourpre / schmallblaettrige kegelblumenwurzel / schmallblaettriger sonnenhut / sonnenhutwurzel
English: echinacea / narrow-leaved purple cone flower / pale corn flower / purple cone flower / scurvy root / snakeroot / black Sampson / black Susans / comb flower
Latin (scientific nomenclature): Echinacea purpurea / Brauneria angustifolia / Brauneria pallida
Background and History
Echinacea are colourful, typically long-lived flowering perennials in the daisy family that are most commonly grown for ornamental purposes. Long known since ancient times as a medicinal plant, its usage is most popular in Europe and the Americas, with a growing 'base' of popularity in some select parts of Asia (i. e. Japan, China, Korea). While some sources suggest that Echinacea has been employed medicinally since the time of the Ancient Greeks, the earliest mention of its medicinal usage can be traced back to the Native American Fist Peoples, many of which employed Echinacea as a remedy for a variety of different diseases. While popular in European countries such as France, Germany, Sweden and Belgium, its use was initially relegated to the merely aesthetic, with specialized 'breeders' or growers of Echinacea specialising in creating vibrant and unique hybrids for use in landscaping and gardens. 
Most notable for its vibrant inflorescence, Echinacea is a popular flower for horticulturists, florists and their ilk, chiefly due to their aesthetic appeal. Of the nine known species of Echinacea, nearly all have been employed as landscape plants or as decorative plants for gardens. With the growing rise in the interest in alternative therapy, Echinacea have also been largely cultivated for use as food supplements or medicines, with the E. purpurea varieties being the most popular choice for both (medicine and horticulture) practices. Echinacea is most notable for its sunflower-like appearance and for the stark vibrancy of its efflorescence. Being highly adaptable plants, Echinaceas often thrive in moderately humid to warm (but not dry) climates, although they can also survive in dry prairies or woodlands. Typically preferring moister areas, they flourish best in cool places, especially with loamy, nutrient-rich soils. Thought to be endemic to North America, Echinacea can also be found in several areas of Europe and selected areas in Asia. In spite of its preference for moist climes, Echinacea have even been found thriving, albeit in smaller numbers, in several desert areas, as the species is altogether drought-tolerant. The whole of the Echinacea species carries distinct characteristics that go beyond their instantly noticeable, often very large flower-heads. The plants typically grow from taproots, and become supported (upon maturity) by erect, often unbranched stems with usually dentate alternating leaf-growths (with some exceptions in other species). Echinacea is universally a florist's plant, notable for its large flowerhead and the central 'chaff' of the plant which is spikey, and of a multihued colour (typically red and yellow, or orangey-yellow that vacillate from one to the other, often blending, but never fully) which differs from the rest of the inflorescence (it is from this middle 'cone' that its nickname of 'coneflower' is derived). In this regard, Echinacea flowers resemble sunflowers more, although the colour of its petals range from vivid dark violets (the most common) to pastel yellows and even ivory white (a rare occurrence in nature, although quite common in horticultural specimens). Echinacea flowers also possess very minute fruits which are typically dun-hued, tan, or chocolate-brown in colour. 
Common / Popular Uses
Echinacea are commonly cultivated as ornamental plants, or are otherwise grown by florists and enthusiasts predominantly for their efflorescence. Due to their long-lived nature and relative hardiness and adaptability, they are a prime choice for gardens and for landscaping, however, with the recent public interest in alternative or natural medicines, Echinacea has been largely cultivated for its medicinal uses, with a growing preference for the E. purpurea varieties over all the other available species of Echinacea, which, while still useful for medicinal applications, are still widely employed for decorative purposes.
The use of Echinacea in natural medicine harkens back to the time of the Native Americans who employed its flowers and roots as medicine for treating a wide variety of ills. While the very name 'Echinacea' is itself derived from Greek, there very little evidence which points out the possibility of its having been employed for either medicinal or aesthetic purposes in Ancient Greece, nor is it attributed to or mentioned by herbalists from those periods in any of the few extant sources left to modern society's perusal. The use of Echinacea may safely be assumed to be focused mainly in three distinct areas of the world: that of the pre-Colonia Americas, pre- and post-Roman Britain, and selected parts of Ancient China. 
Traditional Chinese Medicine generally ascribes cooling, nourishing, and purifying properties to Echinacea, having employed it as a rudimentary sort of herbal 'antibiotic' since before the Tang Dynasty. Generally considered a yin tonic, it is also capable of stimulating the yang properties of the blood helping to promote balance. Because of its potent purifying capacities, it was commonly given not only as a detoxifying medicine, but as a primary cure for trifling to moderately severe ailments. Where the West prefers the flowers (in whole or extracted form) of the Echinacea, Traditional Chinese Medicine shows a preference for the root and bark or stem of the plant for curing flu, fevers, and viral infections, usually relegating preparations made from the leaves for recuperative and nourishing remedies. Time tested preparations usually combine dried and ground Echinacea root along with other nourishing or purifying herbs, although alcoholic and aquaeous extracts are also commonplace. Oil-based macerations which contain Echinacea are rare in Traditional Chinese Medicine, although the applicationis not unheard of. Preparations of Echinacea are often custom-made by Chinese apothecaries in combination with other medicinal herbs and spices and are rarely used solely. 
In the Western sphere of alternative medicine, Echinacea has become quite a popular "natural antibiotic", often being employed by self-medicating herbalism practitioners to treat flu, fevers, the common cold, and a wide assortment of other diseases, usually of the bacterial or viral type. This usage initially stemmed from an age-old practice first employed by the First Peoples of the Americas and the early inhabitants of Europe, such as the Vikings and the Celts who have employed Echinacea as an early sort of disease-preventive supplement long before the introduction of modern antibiotics.  The modern application of Echinacea first began in the Europe, in the early 19th century where it was studied and employed as medicine by the still then-evolving pharmacological industry at the time. During these times, it's applications were somewhat limited to tinctures and aquaeous extracts (with tisanes made from loose plant parts having experienced a trifling decline with the evident preference by Victorians and consequently, the rest of Europe of that period, for black tea). Its applications in 19th century Europe was not similar to the applications it is employed for at present, as Echinacea was employed more as an analgesic, a nervine, and as a type of anti-venom (such purposes ultimately having an early origin, as Echinacea does possess significant detoxifying and calming properties) more than it was employed as an immune-booster or an "antibiotic".  Its widespread use in the Americas did not come about until well into the middle of the 1930s, where it was popularized as a remedy for flu and the common cold by a now forgotten Swiss herbalist who decided to market tablets containing powdered Echinacea parts.
Reverting back to its historical usage, Echinacea was a popular remedy for American First Peoples, usually decocting a mixture of its flowers, bark, and roots as a cure for fevers, flu, cough, and the common cold. It has even been employed as a poultice to cure snakebites in the belief that it possesses significant antivenom properties, although its usage in the modern context would undoubtedly be considered dubious by some.  While the employment of Echinacea varied from tribe to tribe, it was generally employed as a cure-all, both for severe and trifling diseases. Aside from its employment as medicine, its flowers were often harvested for sustenance and nutrition, often ground, crushed, or mashed and mixed with foodstuffs as a condiment or as an integral ingredient. The First Peoples considered Echinacea to be a gift from the Deer Kindred, having seen the animals partake of the plant when sick or injured.
In the modern context, Echinacea is still employed (in various forms, the most popular being tinctures or capsules) as a remedy for, or a preventive supplement against diseases of the upper respiratory system.  Because it possesses significant diuretic properties, it has also been employed as a remedy for urinary tract infections, and as a supplementary remedy for gallstones and kidney stones.  Due to its natural 'antibiotic' properties and its immuno-boosting capacity, it is also generally taken as a food supplement to boost overall health.  Most modern applications involving Echinacea typically come in encapsulated or tablet-formed pills that are taken as curative or preventive supplements, although concentrated extracts, tinctures, and even loose Echinacea are also available for the more 'hands on' or traditional herbalists. As a side note, when purchasing loose Echinacea, especially Echinacea root, it is a good idea to 'test' the efficacy of the herb by first chewing a piece or a small handful of it (if it comes in mixed combinations of bark, roots, and flowers).  One should expect a slight numbing sensation in the mouth as a sign of potency and freshness which would otherwise be absent in old, impure, or improperly dried samples.
A decoction of Echinacea flowers (or a combination of its roots, flowers, and stems) can be drunk at the onset of a cold or flu to help facilitate in faster recovery or to allow for near instantaneous recovery. The efficiency and time it takes for a person to recover usually varies depending upon the concentration of the decoction and the amount which is ingested. Being an edible plant, it is also possible to consume Echinacea by integrating into cooking to achieve similar therapeutic or supplementary effects. Very concentrated decoctions, or potent tinctures of Echinacea may be applied (undiluted, in the case of tinctures) topically to help cure most fungal or bacterial infections affecting the dermis, among them dandruff, psoriasis, and scabies. It may also help to alleviate the symptoms of eczema and hives as well as reduce the severity of many types of allergies (an effect which may also be brought about by the ingestion of the herb).  Whole Echinacea flowers, when allowed to steep in one's choice of base oil may be helpful in hastening the healing of wounds, as well as in protecting it against infections. Echinacea oil macerations, especially when made with other healing herbs such as comfrey or marshmallow root can also make for excellent skin-nourishing ointments. Its analgesic properties may also prove helpful in alleviating pain associated with diseases such as arthritis and rheumatism. A combined approach of internal ingestion, external application, and a wholesome holistic diet may prove to be highly beneficial for individuals who suffer from debilitating or long-lasting diseases. Modern studies have even suggested that Echinacea may be helpful for individuals who suffer from certain types of cancer as well as neurodegenerative, and immune-suppressive diseases. 
Syrup which is made from a strong decoction of Echinacea, slow-prepped and mixed with honey (usually combined with garlic and ginger) makes for an excellent cough syrup. If replaced with raw sugar or molasses, the resulting syrup may be allowed to solidify, creating highly effective, all-natural throat lozenges that not only help to heal the larynx and trachea, but also effectively soothe the oesophagus and decongest the nasal passages.  The dried petals and stripped bark of Echinacea may even be smoked or otherwise inhaled by throwing them unto a container of coals or burning embers. The ensuing smoke is said to not only dispel fatigue but it also helps in promoting calm and facilitating in the decongestion of the bronchial and nasal airways. Although smoking Echinacea's constituent parts are among the commonly attributed acts performed by First Peoples, very little evidence is found to confirm this idea, although the possibility of its having been used as a type of inhalant is strong.
Magickal / Esoteric Uses
The use of Echinacea in ritual and magick seems to be a relatively modern act with origins perhaps stemming from an adaptation of the shamanic usage of the herb by First Peoples. In Wicca, esoteric herbalism, and ceremonial magick, Echinacea is usually integrated into potions, unctions, philtres, and salves to strengthen its innate magickal properties. In neo-shamanic practices, it can be found in medicine pouches or juju bags as a Power enhancer, as it is believed that the well-rounded nature of its healing properties also work in a similar manner when applied magickally - in that it boosts and fortifies any type of spellwork or magickal item.  Because of this, it is a common addition to talismanic items made with, or from herbs aside from its more well-known integration into orally ingested or topically applied magickal potions. Echinacea is also reputed to be a powerful fortune and luck herb, and is often used by some modern magi for money-attracting spells (in spite of the fact that its 'fortuneeliciting' properties are a recent association). 
In more traditionally-oriented shamanic practices, Echinacea's constituent parts may be burnt as incense, usually for cleaning, evoking peace, harmony, unity, or as a means encourage a speedy recovery from illnesses of either a physical or a spiritual origin. Some traditional shamanic practices also associate Echinacea with spiritual fortification, often carrying a small amount encased in a medicine pouch as a bolster against trying times. Being sacred to the Deer Kindred in Native American spirituality it is usually employed as a link or an offering for this specific Power Animal and is also assumed (in a more modern context) to be a good offering to earth-based (i. e. naiads, dryads, etc.) entities or elementals. 
Echinacea Safety Notes
While the use and consumption of Echinacea is generally deemed safe for individuals of all ages, infants below nine months of age as well as pregnant and nursing women should avoid partaking of any article which may contain Echinacea, more for safety purposes than for any known detrimental side-effects. It should also be noted that in spite of the traditional ascriptions of its anti-rheumatic, antihistaminic, and analgesic properties, some individuals may be allergic to Echinacea, with the resulting allergies possibly exacerbating the condition, and although the possibility of allergic reactions are rare, some hypersensitive individuals may experience a tingling sensation or a numbing in the mouth after consumption, or they may feel nauseous or dizzy after prolonged intake of Echinacea-based products. Likewise, the consumption of Echinacea and all products containing it should be moderated. While there is as yet no evidence to point out any possible dangers, much less any symptoms of Echinacea overdose, one should nevertheless err on the side of caution and practice moderation when consuming the herb, especially when it is simply included as an additive to an herbal recipe.
Main article researched and created by Alexander Leonhardt. © herbs-info.com 2013
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