Regularly, by email, or on the ‘feedback page’ of our website, we receive enquiries about Echinacea. How much does it cost? How big is the bottle? Do we have it currently in stock? But when I ask what kind of Echinacea the customer is enquiring about, I am often met with some confusion. “I didn’t know there was more than one kind” is usually the answer.
There are, in fact, three kinds used medicinally: Echinacea Purpurea, Echinacea Angustifolia, and Echinacea Pallida. Three species of the same plant! Yet usually, when we buy Echinacea in the UK in tincture or tablet form, or included in ‘cold-cure’ remedies, it is Echinacea Purpurea we get. Many people have not even heard of the other two varieties. And Echinacea Pallida, as far as I have found, seems difficult to obtain in the UK.
Many years ago, when I was suffering very badly with a bout of ‘flu, a friend brought me a tincture of Echinacea Purpurea. I took this religiously, as I had heard how wonderful this marvellous medicine was, and how it would just about bust any germs lurking in my poor body, and support my immune system into the bargain. Yet I didn’t feel much better! I knew the power of herbal medicines, and particularly how effective tinctures were, so I was disappointed. Until……..my friend brought me another bottle. This had such an unusual flavour, brought a lot of saliva to my mouth, and tingled my tongue and throat, similar to the effect of eating raw orange-peel. (I wondered if the suppliers had made a mistake and labelled the bottle wrongly) Yet, amazingly, within two hours I was feeling almost totally better! Then I read the small print. It was Echinacea Angustifolia!
It took me a little time to understand the difference, and try them both out, with me as the guinea-pig! I learned that Echinacea Purpurea did indeed help to support me, in a wholistic way, if I were overstrained or tired. It seemed to protect me against a large percentage of nasty germs flying around in my busy world, (though not a magical talisman. I did catch one cold!) Yet it would often subtly help to re-balance my strength and health, if I felt under pressure. I did not take it every day, just for short-ish periods of time, a week or two at a stretch.
Echinacea Angustifolia, on the other hand, was my best friend whenever there was any infection to cope with. Any infection responded well to this treatment (4ml. 3 times a day) Or if there was any infected area on the skin, Echinacea Angustifolia tincture, either neat, or let down with a few drops of water, made an excellent lotion, healing ‘from the inside out’ (drawing out pus or toxins naturally, and not healing the surface skin before deeper healing had taken place.)Purpurea seemed to have little effect in cases like this. The tincture form of the remedy had better results than a tea, decocted from the dried root. I have since learned that tinctures are the best way to take herbal medicines. They are more rapidly-absorbed by the system, and more of the active properties of the herb are extracted particularly in a 1/4 or1/5 (at least 35%)alcohol solution.
Yes, both varieties of Echinacea on the market are good medicine. But they have their specific roles.
Yet it does concern me that Echinacea and Echinacea-containing products are being used with increasing frequency nowadays, and often without much thought or reflection about how our immune systems have their own intrinsic integrity, and normally do not need to be interfered with on a regular basis. I have known people who took Echinacea Purpurea three times a day for many years! That is not advisable. The immune system, to be strong, really needs us to live a healthy balanced lifestyle. As much sleep as we need. Vitamin-rich fresh foods, plenty of good water, plenty of regular outdoor exercise (in all weather!) And ways to cope with or lessen stress in our lives will all contribute to a healthy immune system.