Extraordinary Echinacea

An immune modulating herb that helps prevent viruses
© Can Stock Photo / veiler

As cooler weather and shorter days approach, we find ourselves having discussions with our patients about immune support to prevent colds and flu. Time and again we prescribe Echinacea. Proven as a great herbal support for the immune system, new research has shown that Echinacea can do so much more than previously thought!

A new approach for Echinacea

In the past, people have typically used Echinacea as a short-term solution at the onset of winter stresses (like the start of a cold). However, this is no longer the best way to use it! As Echinacea is not an immune stimulator or booster, but rather an immune modulator, it actually requires a long-term daily dose, with a dosage increase at the onset of illness, in order to keep the immune system engaged and improve the response in the face of a virus.

The key to optimizing the health benefits of Echinacea is consistent dosing! Instead of waiting for a cold to strike, we suggest at least 8 mg daily (for adults) beginning in the fall and continuing throughout the winter. At the onset of illness, tripling the daily dose for a short term (4-5 days) can help reduce the duration and severity of infection.

Which type of Echinacea do I need?

Readily accessible in most health food stores, pharmacies, and naturopathic offices, and available in varying potencies and forms, it can be confusing trying to figure out which Echinacea is right for you and your family. Feel more confident navigating through the sea of competing products by ensuring your next bottle of Echinacea meets the following requirements:

  • Choose an organic supplement that features either E. purpurea or E. angustifolia or both. Both species contain alkylamides, a compound with notable immune-modulating effects.

  • Look for a product that uses the Echinacea root. The root, versus the leaves, seeds, or flower heads, has the highest concentration of alkylamides, thus the most potent part of the plant.

  • Tablets and capsules may be a more palatable form, as a tincture (an alcohol extraction) can taste quite strongly and cause a tingling sensation in the mouth (actually a sign of good quality!).

  • For children, there are some tincture options that have added glycerin or sweeteners to decrease the intense flavour. Or you could add your own natural sweetener such as honey or maple syrup, à la Mary Poppins!

Dosing echinacea

For dosing kiddos ages 2-17, follow Clark’s rule:

Adult dose x (child’s weight in pounds/150) = child’s dose.

For example, regular dosing for a 75-pound 8-year-old would be:

8 mg x (75/150) = 4 mg

At the onset of illness, triple the dose to 12 mg, administered as 3 daily doses of 4 mg for 4-5 days.

Echinacea gives us the tingles!

The Lakota Native Americans, indigenous to South Dakota, still use the roots of Echinacea angustifolia more extensively than any other plant. The quality of the root is determined by chewing a small amount: the greater the tingling sensation in the mouth, the better the perceived quality.

Speak to your health care provider before using Echinacea if you are allergic or react to plants within the Asteraceae plant family (which include marigold, daisy, and ragweed).

If you feel that Echinacea alone is not enough, contact your naturopathic doctor to provide you with the specific support needed!

Editor's note: exciting echinacea!

New study alert!!

"In the newest and largest paediatric study of Echinacea, groundbreaking research was presented in Switzerland showing that the use of a specific type of Echinacea derived from fresh, organic Echinacea purpurea was effective in preventing respiratory infections and reducing the risk of complications (such as sinusitis, bronchitis, and pneumonia). Most significantly, those patients who received it had a 73% reduced need for antibiotics!"--Sherry Torkos, pharmacist and author of The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.

Although Echinacea isn’t meant to be a replacement for antibiotics, which are crucial for the treatment of diseases, Echinacea’s success rate as an immune modulator may very well mean that antibiotics could be prescribed less often for common, general illnesses.