Echinacea ain’t Echinacea

Author: David Casteleijn.

You may have heard that Echinacea is good for keeping colds and infections away, bought some and wondered why it seemed to have little effect.  The more research that is done into herbal medicine, the more it becomes apparent that there can be vast differences in the quality and efficacy of herbal medicine products on the market.

Echinacea is a clear case in point, where a large variance in the quantity of the active constituents – in this case alkylamides and cichoric acid – was found across a range of products in tests conducted by Choice magazine.  Good quality Echinacea should always give you a characteristic ‘buzz’ on the tongue due to alkylamide content, (the immune enhancing component).

Levels of active constituents are also related to the species and part used, with significantly higher levels found in the root. Many supplements opt for the cheaper but much less effective flowering tops for their Echinacea content

Another aspect of using Echinacea is understanding the dosage requirements and lead-in effects.  It is important to significantly increase the dose of Echinacea in the presence of an acute infection, keeping in mind that Echinacea does not work immediately.  Herbs such as Andrographis can support the immune system during the lead-in time it takes for Echinacea to play its part.

Just like wine, herbal medicine is a naturally grown and variable product. Therefore, choosing an Echinacea supplement is akin to selecting wine from the bottle shop, a cheap cask wine is obviously different from a Grange Hermitage.  Be sure to be informed in your choice and you will end up with a medicine which works. 

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