Ingredient Profile: Echinacea
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Scientific Name: Echinacea purpurea
Common name: Echinacea
Echinacea purpurea (echinacea) is one of the most well-known medicinal plants in the world. It belongs to the Asteraceae (daisy) plant family, with characteristic purple flowers and a central brown prickly cone. Given its appearance, echinacea is also commonly referred to as purple coneflower (1,2).
The flower’s spiky central cone earns echinacea its name, which is derived from the Greek word echinos meaning ‘hedgehog’ or ‘sea urchin’. While there are several different echinacea species, Echinacea purpurea is the most popular (3).
Originating in North America, the echinacea’s medicinal use dates back to Native American Sioux Indians in the 1600s whoused the plant to make herbal extracts, teas, tinctures, and ointments.
They used echinacea externally to heal wounds, burns, insect bites and infections, as well as consumed it orally for pain relief, coughs, stomach cramps, toothaches and snakebites (3, 4).
It was not until the late 1800s that echinacea became a popular medical treatment prescribed by both eclectic and traditional doctors (5).
In the 20th century, echinacea became one of the most frequently used herbal preparations in the United States, when it was used as a cold and flu remedy.
Echinacea remains one of the most popular herbs for relieving upper respiratory symptoms on the market today (3, 6).
Echinacea is frequently used and investigated for its actions within the immune system.
As a herbal medicine, it is most commonly used to prevent and relieve upper respiratory tract infections, including the common cold. It is also used to increase general immune system function (7).
Echinacea has been the focus of numerous clinical studies and has been widely investigated for its ability to regulate the immune system (8). The majority of clinical research has been conducted in Europe and performed on a preparation from fresh Echinacea purpurea tops (flowering aerial parts) (5).
The key active components of Echinacea purpuera include alkylamides, caffeic acid esters, flavonoids, polysaccharides, and volatile oils. These are known as bioactive constituents, which means they are the components in the plant that are responsible for the herb’s therapeutic effects (5, 9).
Alkylamides can be detected in liquid echinacea preparations by the tingling sensation they have on the tongue and throat (10). Many herbalists consider this tingling sensation to signal that the echinacea extract contains adequate amounts of the key active component and is high quality.
Within the body, echinacea is renowned for its actions on the immune system.
Based on its traditional use in Western herbal medicine, echinacea (1):
The information provided in reference to this ingredient is general in nature and provided as information only. Any product specific therapeutic claims for this ingredient are linked to specific dosage requirements based on evidence of traditional or scientific nature.
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Bachelor of Nutrition and Food Science, Nutrition Sciences
Caitlin Daly is a certified health professional and Brauer’s National Trainer. She has a keen interest in understanding how individual ingredients work within the body as well as how different nutrients interact to support overall health. Caitlin believes good nutrition is important at all of life’s ages and stages, shaping growth and development in childhood and helping us to thrive and maintain good health as we age.
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