Sore throat. Coughing. Sneezing. There's no mistaking the feelings that come with getting sick. With cold and flu season rapidly approaching, it’s a good time to stock up on natural remedies that boost your immune system and help stave off germs and bacteria. Native to North America, echinacea has rapidly become one of the best-selling herbs in the U.S. It helps to stimulate the body’s immune system to work more effectively, especially during cold and flu season.
There are nine species of echinacea, a flowering plant that grows throughout the U.S. and Canada. People have used echinacea as a remedy in the Americas for centuries. Some of the plant's common names inlcude the purple coneflower and black-eyed Susan. The leaves, stems, flower, and roots may be used to produce supplements, liquid extracts, and teas.
Echinacea helps strengthen your immune system by stimulating the production of T-Cells—a certain type of blood cells that protect the body from infection. While antibiotics destroy both harmful and beneficial bacteria, echinacea helps your body better fight bacteria, viruses and atypical cells, including some cancer cells.
Speed the Recovery Process
Echinacea contains a compound called echinacein, which helps keep germs from penetrating healthy cells. By taking echinacea when your symptoms first appear, you can reduce the duration of colds and flu. In fact, even if you begin taking echinacea after you’re already sick, it still can help to reduce your recovery time.
Proven as effective in speeding the recovery process of a number of common illnesses, echinacea may help as a treatment for: urinary tract infections, bronchitis, upper resperatory infections, ear infections, gingivitis, vaginal yeast infections, and hayfever.
Topical Uses for Echinacea
Move over aloe, echinacea is also a great pain reliever and healer of sunburn. Although echinacea is usually used internally for the treatment of viruses and bacteria, it is now being used more and more for the treatment of external wounds. It has also been found to be effective at treating slow-healing wounds and skin infections, such as boils.
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Echinacea is great for minor cuts, scratches, burns, and insect bites. By applying echinacea topically to the affected area, it will not only will it keep the wound from getting infected, but it will speed the healing process. The topical use of echinacea will also clean the wound, and it has analgesic properties to relieve the pain naturally.
The use of echinacea has also been shown to help with psoriasis and excema. It may be worth a shot to try before resorting to more expensive pharmaceutical products, but always check with your primary care physician first.
Side Effects of Echinacea
For the majority of people, echinacea does not cause any major side effects. However, individuals with an allergy to plants such as ragweed, marigolds, chrysanthemums, or daisies may experience allergic reactions to echinacea.
Other common side effects include minor gastrointestinal problems, nausea, and dizziness. If you notice any of these symptoms or are unsure if you should use echinacea, it is recommended that you consult your doctor. Echinacea is not recommended if you are pregnant or lactating.
People with immune system diseases, such as HIV or AIDS, tuberculosis or multiple sclerosis, should not take any form of echinacea without consulting a physician first. Some research has shown that echinacea can actually irritate these kinds of diseases, making the symptoms and outbreaks worse. If you are unsure about whether or not to try echinacea, it’s always best to ask your doctor.
Beat the Flu Season—Get Your Echinacea Now
Echinacea is a great herb to have in the house for many ailments. It is available in teas, extracts, tinctures, capsules/tablets, and ointments, and can be purchased at your local super market or health food store. It is not recommended that you use echinacea for more than eight weeks at a time. If used longer, it could cause hepatotoxicity--serious liver damage.
While echinacea itself does not cure diseases, the boost to your immune system could help you to be up and running in less time. Whether you a treating your cold or trying to prevent one, echinacea is an excellent addition to your natural medicine cabinet this winter.