Arkansas turned out to be a good place to begin learning about Echinacea, since five of the nine species in the genus Echinacea grow there. If you take a quick glance at the history of medicine, you will soon realize that Echinacea was most widely used by American physicians before the advent of antibiotics. Sulfa drugs appeared in the 1920s and penicillin in the early 1940s. Prior to the development of antibiotics, physicians found Echinacea useful for very difficult to treat conditions, such as gangrene, tuberculosis, diphtheria, and other serious diseases. Once antibiotics were developed, Echinacea fell into obscurity in the United States, starting in the 1930s. The late 1930s was also a time of the rise of scientific-based "phytomedicine" in Germany.
Until the late 1930s, Echinacea angustifolia was the only species used. In 1939, Echinacea purpurea was introduced into medical practice. Due to continuing supply shortages, in the late 1930s, Dr. Gerhard Madaus, founder of the Madaus Co., in Cologne, a leading manufacturer of Echinacea products in Germany for over sixty years, came to the United States in search of seeds. He bought "Echinacea angustifolia" seeds from a Chicago seed company. The plants which grew from them, however, turned out to be Echinacea purpurea. Following the logic that it might be equally as good as Echinacea angustifolia, they experimented with fresh plant preparations of Echinacea purpurea. Eventually products were made from it.
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Echinacea is valued as a short-term stimulant to the immune system, especially at the onset of colds and flu, or to reduce the symptoms and duration of cold and flu infections. Various species of Echinacea, mainly the roots of E. angustifolia, have been found to stimulate the immune system. Also components soluble only in alcohol, as well as different compounds soluble only in water from different Echinacea species have been found to stimulate the immune system to help with infections.
Other components in Echinacea have been shown to have a mild antibacterial and fungicidal activity. These compounds have been found to slow down the spread of bacteria, rather than kill them outright like an antibiotic. Other components have been shown to increase fibroblasts (cells involved in the development of connective tissue) helping to stimulate new tissue development. Properdin, a serum protein complex, which helps to activate different immune system mechanisms, has also been shown to be increased by Echinacea extracts. Rather than relying on one chemical compound, or "magic bullet," or one mechanism of action, Echinacea works on a multifaceted level to help the body help itself.
For our own personal use, we find that Echinacea works well to help eliminate colds or flu, or help fight minor infections, if I take it at the onset of symptoms. If you already have a cold try a tincture of Echinacea angustifolia to help knock back symptoms. We have these on sale here in our store always.
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