Herb monographs for health professionals

Echinacea (E. purpurea, E. pallida, E. angustifolia)

History and Traditional Use

The Lakota people called E. angustifolia Icahpe hu and used it for snake bites, sepsis, and rabies.6,24 The Blackfoot saw the plant as a remedy for toothache and other tribes used it for cough medicine (Choctaw), venereal disease (Delaware), sore throats (Comanche), rheumatism and colds (Cheyenne), and eye infections (Dakota).25 Among the early European settlers, Echinacea purpurea first appeared in John Clayton's 1762 Flora Virginica as a remedy for saddle sores on horses.25 In Europe, Dr. Johann Heinrich Dierbach published a discussion of the plant's volatile oils in 1831.25

Echinacea became a favorite of the Eclectic physicians in the U.S. when H.C.F. Meyer produced a commercial medicine from E. angustifolia
.26,27 After investigating Dr. Meyer's claims about the plant, Dr. John King and John Uri Lloyd determined that it had significant value.25 The Lloyd Brothers pharmaceutical firm of Cincinnati created an Echinacea Specific Medicine for sepsis, cancerous growths, typhoid, puerperal fever, throat infections, wound healing, and inflammatory skin conditions.5,14,25 In Ellingwood's American Materia Medica, Echinacea is listed as a treatment for syphilis, typhus, diphtheria, chronic mastitis, and tuberculosis as well.19

Echinacea preparations fell out of favor in the U.S. with advances in antibiotics and the decline of the Eclectics28, though both E. angustifolia and E. pallida remained in the National Formulary though its 1947 edition.25 Despite its reduction in use in the U.S., Echinacea became increasingly interesting to European researchers, especially the Germans.25 Gerhard Madaus, a German pharmaceutical manufacturer imported E. purpurea seeds to Germany in the 1930s. Since then, German scientists have conducted research into the biochemistry, pharmacology, and clinical usefulness of the herb.29

Echinacea is the most commonly used herbal product in the U.S.: 40.3% of adults surveyed in 2002 reported that they had taken the herb over the past 12 months.30 The herb continues to enjoy popularity in Europe as well, especially in Germany where over 200 Echinacea products are available.31 Retailers sold $58 million worth of Echinacea products in 2000.5 Manufacturers market Echinacea as an immune stimulant and the public uses it most often to prevent or treat cold symptoms.32-36

Modern herbalists continue to value Echinacea for treatment of a variety of infectious conditions, such as upper respiratory infections, urinary tract infections, otitis media, vaginal candidiasis, and skin infections.6,9,19,27 Echinacea is often combined with herbs with antimicrobial activity, such as goldenseal or other berberine containing herbs.6 Because of its anti-inflammatory properties, Echinacea is also helpful as part of a formula to treat acute arthritic conditions.6,27


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