is a flowering plant. It is sometimes called Purple Coneflower. It grows mainly in Europe and the North America. There are several closely related species: Echinacea purpurea, angustifolia, and pallida. They have slightly different medicinal properties. Echinacea purpurea seems more active in the test tube. Echinacea angustifolia appears more effective in people.
Echinacea was the main medicinal herb used by Native Americans in the Great Plains region. Since the late 1930s, German researchers have studied echinacea
and its effects on the immune system. Echinacea is one of the most frequently sold herbs in the United States.
The German government has approved Echinacea pallida root and Echinacea purpurea leaf for use against colds, flu, and chronic respiratory or urinary infections.
Echinacea is available in capsules containing a powder of the dried plant or root, and also as a tincture (an alcohol-based preparation). In some cases, people drink pressed juice from fresh plants. For treating skin conditions, special preparations containing pressed juice are used.
The suggested dosage of echinacea
depends on which species and which parts of the plant were used. In general, it should not be used for more than 1-2 weeks at a time.
The major use of echinacea is to treat colds and flu. It is also used for urinary tract infections, skin wounds that aren't healing well, and skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.
Echinacea stimulates the immune system. It promotes CD4 cell activation and increases the activity of the immune system. It helps white blood cells attack germs. These effects may decrease if people take echinacea
for more than a few weeks.
Echinacea is generally not recommended for use by people with diseases of the immune system such as HIV, multiple sclerosis, or tuberculosis. The German government recommends against using echinacea if you have these conditions. Some researchers believe that echinacea could actually worsen these immune system problems.
Many people with HIV have used echinacea because it stimulates the immune system, or for short-term treatment of colds and the flu. The use of echinacea
for people with HIV is controversial.
Some doctors believe that it is not a good idea to stimulate the immune system in people who have some type of immune disorder. Increasing the activation of CD4 cells could give HIV more "target cells" to infect. Other doctors believe that some parts of the immune system are already overactive, causing damage to healthy cells and tissues.
They are also concerned about an animal study showing that echinacea increased levels of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-alpha), a substance produced by the immune system to kill unhealthy cells. High levels of TNF-alpha have been linked to the progression of HIV disease.
Unfortunately, as with most herbal products, there is no careful research in people with HIV. There is no published research to document any dangerous results from the use of echinacea
by people with HIV. Some researchers believe that short-term use of echinacea (up to two weeks) to treat colds or flu does not present any serious risks to people with HIV. However, both AIDS researchers and herbalists warn against long-term use of echinacea.