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(e. augustifolia, e.purpureum, e. pallida)


Echinacea (purple coneflower) is a North American perennial herb, a member of the daisy family that grows on poor soil in dry, open places. It has a history of use by indigenous Americans for treatment of snake bite, toothaches, sore throat, wounds. The parts used are the dried root, and crushed and filtered whole plant. Echinacea is often used in combination with goldenseal or vitamin C.

Three closely-related species, e. augustifolia, e.pupureum and e. pallida are now commercially grown the US and in Europe, and extracts are sold as an immune enhancer to help ward off colds. Although these three species are very similar, there are differences in the make-up of the extracts. Echinacea also has mild antibiotic properties, and may be effective against staphylococcus and streptococcus infections, and also has anti-inflammatory properties which may relieve arthritis and lymphatic swelling. Some cancer sufferers take echinacea as a part of their natural treatment of tumours.

The constituents of echinacea extract vary slightly according the the species used, but all include essential oils, polysaccharides, polyacetylenes, betain, glycoside, sesquiterpenes and caryophylene. It also contains copper, iron, tannins, protein, fatty acids and vitamins A, C, and E. The most important immune-stimulating components are polysaccharides such as inulin, that increase the production of T-cells and increase other natural killer cell activity. Fat-soluble alkylamides and a caffeic acid glycoside called echinacoside may also have immune enhancing properties. Extracts are not generally standardised for any of these components, and so may be of variable effectiveness.

The main claim for echinacea is that it protects to some extent against the onset of the common cold and speeds recovery, and there is some research evidence that echinacea may aid in the production of interferon - the body's natural defence against viral infections such as common cold, influenza (flu) and herpes. The latest (University of Connecticut - 2007) systematic review of data suggests that echinacea may provide around 50% protection, and may halve recovery time from first symptoms. However, the problem with echinacea is that research results are very mixed, with some experiments indicating strong immune-enhancing properties, while other show almost none. Only a year before the Connecticut study, another meta study published by the Cochrane Library in January 2006 concluded that there was no evidence that Echinacea prevented the common cold, and it has been speculated that other, currently unknown, genetic or nutritional factors may be affecting outcomes.

There is no consistent scientific evidence to show that echinacea extracts can help prevent or treat cancer, although some in vitro studies have shown some mild anti-tumour effects. Some claims have been made that it can help relieve side effects from cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but again there is no real evidence for this.







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