Echinacea thumbnail Echinacea - Echinacea, sp.:


The flowers of this plant are typically purple, light or dark toned depending on species. There is a cone-shaped projection in the middle of the flower.

Echinacea purpurea: This is the herb typically, but not exlusively, discussed. The plant grows to be tall and stout; its petals droop back. The cone and petals are definitely purple, but the pollen is yellow. The flowering plant is quite stunning.
Echinacea angustifola: This is a shorter plant, with narrower leaves, and petals which are shorter and droop less. It is another frequently-used species.
Other coneflowers - E. pallida, E. gloriosa, E. stimulata, E. paradoxa: Descriptions of these species will be written up as they become available, although E. paradoxa has yellow petals, and E. pallida is often confused for E. angustifola.

Growing Info:

Coneflowers are herbaceous sun-loving perennials, and which are hardy given sufficient water. They are a North American species, originating in the Great Plains/midwest regions of the United States.

Culinary Uses:

We are not aware of any culinary uses for this herb.

Medicinal Uses in Folklore:

Native Americans from various tribes made use of the coneflowers in early times. It has been used as a tonic, and as a treatment for arthritis. It is said to help with urinary tract infections and other infections, as well as being a general immune system builder. Applied topically, it may take the "bite" out of bites and stings.

Scanning the Scientific Literature:

Echinacea purpurea or E. angustifolia tend to be the most used of the coneflowers. In part, this is due to the fact that some of the other echinaceas have been little-studied. Bauer recommends labelling packaging as to which plant (as well as which part of the plant -- leaf, root, or whole plant) is being used in any treatment. Significant pharmacological effects are indicated from the expressed juice of the upper parts of E. purpurea and for alcoholic extracts of the roots of E. pallida, E. angustifolia and E. purpurea. The activities are mainly directed towards the nonspecific cellular immune system. Active constituents of even the known-active members of this genus vary from species to species. (E. purpurea does not contain echinacoside but has chichoric acid, whereas E. angustifola contains the former but not the latter.) The components of E. pallida are variable in their activity.

Saying that Echinacea is an immune stimulant doesn't really impart much information as to which part of a complex immune system Echinacea affects. Much still waits to be discovered about the role constituents of Echinacea extract play. It is known that constituents of Echinacea act on phagocytic immune cells in the blood -- phagocytic cells are ones which engulf/ingest bacteria and other pathogens in order to destroy them. Macrophages are particularly known to be stimulated to such activity. Water-soluable polysaccharides in both E. purpurea and E. angustifolia have both been implicated in this effect, although there may also be complex interactions ongoing with additional constituents of Echinacea. One such polysaccharide is arabinogalactan. Another water-soluable immunologically responsive component of E. angustifolia and E. pallida, but which is not a polysaccharide, is echinacoside.

At any rate, purified polysaccharides from Echinacea purpurea may well stimulate macrophages and monocytes to produce Il-1, TNFα, and IL-6, and may increase the proliferation of macrophages in bone marrow and spleen, to be released to the body. There is evidence that these polysaccharides may provide a level of protection against at least certain systemic infections.

Echinacea exhibits anti-inflammatory activities, and has been studied especially in E. angustifolia root extracts. Certain polyunsaturated alkamides obtained from Echinacea angustifolia were able to inhibit cyclooxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase activity in vitro, important for helping to decrease inflammations.

There are indications that Echinacea extracts, in conjunction with other cancer therapies, may have anti-carcinogenic effects, due to their mechanisms of action upon the immune system.

E. purpurea extracts may also promote the effective functioning of many fat-soluble vitamins (including E and A), given that the vitamins are replenished in the diet.

Echinacea purpurea seems to be virtually non-toxic and non-mutagenic. In some rare cases, allergies to these plants are possible.

Other Info:

These plants are in the family Asteraceae. The original Latin name for E. purpurea was Rudbeckia purpurea; although this designation went out of favor in the mid 1800's, one can still find reference to the plant under this name.

Other common names, besides purple coneflower, for this plant are red sunflower, comb flower, Indian head, black sampson, cock up hat, Missouri snakeroot, or Kansas snakeroot.


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This information is not intended to replace medical advice or treatment. If conditions worsen, or persist, consult your healthcare practitioner.

Last Updated: March 7, 1999.