They are here again, the cold, wet days when we long for the hot summer days. And with them come colds, coughs and sore throats, the uninvited companions of the cold season. But we are not at their mercy for better or worse, we can strengthen our immune system. And if we do catch a cold, there are herbal ingredients that help us cope with it more easily. I would like to introduce you to a very pretty plant. It blooms in many of our gardens all summer long. But most of them only know it as an ornamental plant and don’t even know what kind of healing powers it contains.
Echinacea is a genus of herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family. It has ten species, which are commonly called coneflowers. Some species can get 4 feet high (140 cm). At the top there is a single, large daisy with a conical flower base and 12 to 15 pale pink to purple-colored ray-flowers. Coneflowers are native in North America, found in moist and dry prairies and open wooded areas. They are often cultivated in gardens for their showy flowers. There are different variations of coneflowers. The Echinacea purpurea, the red coneflower, is mainly used for healing purposes.
Echinacea is an ancient medicinal plant of the Indians. They used the fresh vegetable pulp or a root pulp for burns, snake and insect bites, poorly healing wounds and fever. The first settlers soon adopted the application as a home remedy for colds. About hundred years ago the plant migrated to Europe. Today preparations of this pretty flower are among the best-selling herbal immunostimulants. And rightly so, as many studies show.
The positive effect of Echinacea purpurea extract on the duration and the course of colds is found in numerous studies. In a controlled, double-blind study, in which neither the scientist nor the participants knew who was receiving the remedy and who the placebo, it could be shown that the application could shorten the duration of a cold; the cold symptoms were less severe. Some of the patients with symptoms of a cold were given 5 ml of Echinacea purpurea pressed juice twice a day, the other part an ineffective placebo, i.e. a product that looks the same as the drug but contains no active ingredients. Echinacea reduced the time for symptoms to subside to 6 days. In the placebo group, the duration of the cold was 9 days. The severity of symptoms such as nasal congestion, runny nose and sore throat could also be reduced significantly.
Another study with 755 participants showed that 46% of the ecinacea group got a cold within a 4 month period, compared to 54% in the placebo group. The participants treated with echinacea were 2.06 days sick on average, compared to 2.44 days in the placebo group.1)M. Javad et.al. Safety and Efficacy Profile of Echinacea purpurea to Prevent Common Cold Episodes: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/841315
In vitro, that means in cell cultures in the lab, an echinacea extract was able to inactivate various types of coronaviruses, those responsible for the common cold as well as for SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2.2)J Signer et.al. In vitro virucidal activity of Echinaforce®, an Echinacea purpurea preparation, against coronaviruses, including common cold coronavirus 229E and SARS-CoV-2. Virol J. 2020 Sep 9;17(1):136. DOI: 10.1186/s12985-020-01401-2 There seem to be no clinical trials available so far to prove the efficacy of echinacea for COVID-19, but we could conclude that it most likely will give us some protective effect against the virus.
Another advantage is that the alcohol-free preparations can be used by two-year-old children. Doctors and parents confirm that the preparations are well tolerated and significantly mitigate and shorten the ordeal of a cold in children.
In the literature contradicting results of the effectiveness of Echinacea are found.3)M Karsch-Völk et.al. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000530.pub3 This can be attributed to the fact that these studies were made with ill-defined products. If different species, plant parts and extraction methods are used, this leads to falsification. It also depends much on where the plant grew and how the active ingredients were extracted.
Science is still researching the exact active ingredients. Modern analytical methods have already identified a large number of ingredients, such as various essential oils, terpenes, alkamides, glycoproteins, polysaccharides and many others. But it is still not known exactly which chemical compounds are actually responsible for the known effects. It is probably just the whole plant in its diverse composition.
Mechanisms of Action
Echinacea purpurea has a phagocytosis-stimulating effect on granulocytes. Granulocytes are white blood cells. They serve to ward off microorganisms. In our case of a cold, they render the invading pathogens harmless by englobing and thus incapacitating them. The extract also increases the number of white blood cells.
The entire immune system is being fortified, increasing the body’s defenses. The formation and activity of the antibodies is stimulated. Interleukins are increasingly formed, which are communication proteins that serve to regulate the immune system. Acute-phase proteins, which also serve to ward off infection, are increasingly formed in the liver.
The number of natural killer cells is also increased. They bind to virus-infected cells and destroy them.
Echinacea products are offered as drops, ointments, gels and injection solutions. To strengthen the immune system, the drops can be swallowed on a spoonful of honey as a preventive measure during the period when the flu is suspected. If the cold has already broken out, Echinacea helps to accelerate the natural healing process in a gentle way.
A Healthy Immune System
Always remember that prevention is better than cure and let us strengthen our immune system. This is best done through regular sport and persistent exercise in the fresh air. Sauna sessions, alternating showers, a vitamin-rich diet and clothing that is appropriate for the season also make a significant contribution to health. Let us also try to influence our thoughts positively through contemplating beautiful things. Because a balanced mood also serves to strengthen the immune system.
If we catch a cold anyway, we have to drink a lot and ensure sufficient humidity in the air, which is often neglected during the heating season. In addition, Echinacea purpurea helps us to cope with the cold faster.
We have a special opportunity just for you. If you want to receive practical and up to date advice on how to implement an immunity-boosting lifestyle, simply join the Coronavirus Immunity Challenge and prepare yourself to face the pandemic with a bullet-proof immune system.
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Esther Neumann studied Nutrition at the University of Vienna. Since then she served as an author for the health magazine “Leben und Gesundheit” and conducted health lectures in various locations of Austria.
|↑1||M. Javad et.al. Safety and Efficacy Profile of Echinacea purpurea to Prevent Common Cold Episodes: A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/841315|
|↑2||J Signer et.al. In vitro virucidal activity of Echinaforce®, an Echinacea purpurea preparation, against coronaviruses, including common cold coronavirus 229E and SARS-CoV-2. Virol J. 2020 Sep 9;17(1):136. DOI: 10.1186/s12985-020-01401-2|
|↑3||M Karsch-Völk et.al. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD000530.pub3|