Every year millions of Canadians suffer from colds and flu. Runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, and low-grade fever are all symptoms commonly caused by one of the many contagious viral pathogens that can invade the upper respiratory tract.

While no cure for the common cold or flu has been found, a review of several clinical studies suggests that taking echinacea at the first sign of a cold, flu, or sore throat may cause symptoms to be less severe and subside sooner.

A Trusted Remedy

Echinacea is one of the most familiar and widely used herbal remedies in the world. When taken orally, echinacea enhances the movement of white blood cells into areas of infection to destroy foreign particles, bacteria, viruses, and other micro-organisms. Echinacea can raise white blood cell activity when necessary to fight infection and lower it when the body’s condition has improved. It also inhibits the growth of bacteria such as staph (Staphylococcus aureus) and increases general immune system function.

The key active constituents of echinacea are the immune-enhancing, water-soluble polysaccharides, flavonoids, essential oils, polyacetylenes, and the alcohol-soluble alkylamides and caffeic acid derivatives, all of which vary slightly among the three main species (E. angustifolia, E. pallida, E. purpurea). In fact, current opinion suggests that no single constituent is responsible for echinacea’s therapeutic effects, so commercial extracts that have been standardized to only one or two constituents may not be the most beneficial.

A Variety of Preparations

Many different forms of echinacea are available in natural health stores. A tincture is an extraction of the fresh plant material in a mixture of alcohol and water. It contains the valuable alcohol-soluble and water-soluble medicinal constituents of echinacea and is recommended if you are taking large doses or need to take it for a long time. Fluid extracts are similar to tinctures and are produced from one part plant material to one part solvent. They are stronger than tinctures so dosages can be effectively lower. Both offer maximum potency, a long shelf life, and quick, complete assimilation by the body.

Dehydrated echinacea in capsules and in a freeze-dried form, although less potent, may be an advantage for people who want to avoid alcohol-based products for taste, health, or sobriety reasons. Many consider an alcohol extract of the fresh pressed juice made from the above-ground parts of echinacea to be the best choice because the juice provides the greatest range of active compounds.

The efficacy of echinacea is enhanced when used in combination with other antiviral and immune supporting herbs. Echinacea combines well with astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus) or garlic as a preventive if you are particularly susceptible to catching colds or flu. When you feel the first symptoms of a cold coming on, take large doses of echinacea (up to a teaspoon of the tincture in a little warm water or juice) every three to four hours together with herbs such as elderberry tea (Sambucus nigra), osha (Ligusticum porteri), lomatium, (Lomatium dissectum), or boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum).

When a cold or flu is full-blown, try echinacea in smaller doses repeated every two hours, and continue with the elderberry tea and other herbs. If complications develop, such as a bacterial infection or infected mucous membranes, 20 to 30 drops of goldenseal tincture (Hydrastis canadensis) combined with echinacea will help fight the infection.

Echinacea can be used long term (up to eight weeks) without losing its effectiveness if immune function is impaired. Historical use and modern research show that echinacea is safe and nontoxic when taken orally at the recommended doses but should be used with caution in cases of autoimmune disease.

So when cold and flu season strikes, be ready–drink plenty of clear fluids, get lots of rest, increase your daily dose of vitamin C, reduce sugar and mucus-forming foods, and fortify your immune system with echinacea.

Recommended Dosages

These dosages are appropriate when echinacea is used as a general immune support during an active infection. They should be taken three times daily.

Tincture 3/4 – 1 tsp (3 – 4 mL)
Fluid extract 1/4 – 1/2 tsp (1- 2 mL)
Pressed juice 1/2 – 3/4 tsp (2 – 3 mL)
Freeze dried 325 – 650 mg
Capsules 300 mg

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