Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), also known as purple coneflower, is a North American species of flowering plant in the sunflower family. It is native to eastern North America and present to some extent in the wild in much of the eastern, southeastern and midwestern United States as well as in the Canadian Province of Ontario.
It is one of the most popular herbs worldwide, and has been used by Native Americans for centuries to treat various ailments. Today, it is well known as an over-the-counter herbal remedy for the common cold or flu. However, it’s also used to treat pain, inflammation, migraines and other health issues.
Both the plant's upper parts and roots are used in tablets, tinctures, extracts and teas. Echinacea plants contain an impressive variety of active compounds, such as caffeic acid, alkamides, phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid, polyacetylenes and many more. In addition, studies have linked Echinacea and their compounds to many health benefits, such as reduced inflammation, improved immunity and lower blood sugar levels.
The Uses of Echinacea
One of the best-known uses of Echinacea is its ability to positively affect the immune system. Numerous studies have found that this plant may help your immune system combat infections and viruses, which could help you recover faster from illness—which is one of the reasons why it is used so frequently to help with the common cold. A review of 14 studies found that taking echinacea may lower the risk of developing colds by more than 50% and shorten the duration of colds by one and a half days.
Echinacea Helps in Lowering Blood Sugar Levels
Test-tube studies have found that Echinacea plants may help to lower blood sugar levels. In one study, an Echinacea purpurea extract was shown to suppress enzymes that digest carbohydrates.This would reduce the amount of sugar entering your blood if consumed. Other test-tube studies found that Echinacea extracts made cells more sensitive to insulin's effects by activating the PPAR-y receptor, a common target of diabetes drugs.
Relieving Anxiety with Echinacea
In recent years, Echinacea plants have emerged as a potential aid for anxiety. Research has discovered that echinacea plants contain compounds that may reduce feelings of anxiety—including alkamides, rosmarinic acid and caffeic acid. In one mouse study, three out of five Echinacea samples helped to reduce anxiety. In addition, they did not make the mice less active, in contrast to higher doses of standard treatments.
Echinacea for Inflammation
Many health experts believe that chronic inflammation is one of the primary causes of disease. Inflammation is your body’s natural way of promoting healing and defending itself, however, sometimes inflammation can get out of hand and last for longer than necessary and expected. Several studies have shown that echinacea can help reduce excess inflammation. In a mouse study, echinacea compounds helped reduce important inflammatory markers and memory-loss caused by inflammation. In another 30-day study, adults with osteoarthritis found that taking a supplement containing Echinacea extract significantly reduced inflammation, chronic pain and swelling. Interestingly, these adults did not respond well to conventional non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) but found the supplement containing echinacea extract helpful.
The Potential Anti-cancer Properties of Echinacea
Test-tube studies have shown that echinacea extracts may also suppress cancer cell growth and even trigger cancer cell death. In one test-tube study, an extract of Echinacea purpurea and chicoric acid (naturally found in echinacea plants) was shown to trigger cancer cell death.
In another test-tube study, extracts from Echinacea plants (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida) killed human cancer cells from the pancreas and colon by stimulating a process called apoptosis or controlled cell death. It’s believed that this effect occurs due to echinacea’s immune-boosting properties.
Echinacea, or purple coneflower, is a medicinal plant that has been used for centuries to treat a variety of health conditions. It improves immune function, lowers blood sugar levels in the body, can help treat anxiety, reduces inflammation, and even shows promise in cancer treatment.