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Field of Dreams

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Field of Dreams

Purple coneflower once grew wild in Ontario waste places, a normal part of the landscape until habitat was destroye.

Purple coneflower once grew wild in Ontario waste places, a normal part of the landscape until habitat was destroyed. Winter hardy and a lover of dry places, coneflower is still welcomed by wild flower lovers in Montana and North Dakota; the American Indians used it as a medicinal herb for possibly centuries.

The late great Dr Alfred Vogel wrote, "I watched the Indian women (in North Dakota) chew echinacea leaves and apply the pulp to wounds and injuries. It was even effective in combating the poison from venomous snakes and particularly in cases of high temperatures and badly healing skin eruptions." (The Nature Doctor, 1952)

It was Vogel who first introduced this healing plant to the Western herbal pharmacopoeia. Now a new chapter in the life of purple coneflower was colorfully dramatized in Kelowna, BC last August.

A group of health food retailers, along with members of the scientific community and the media were invited by Roland Gahler of Natural Factors to visit his echinacea fields and laboratories and to celebrate his latest research into the immune-building properties of echinacea; purpurea, angustifolia and pallidia, the lesser-known relation.

Echinacea purpurea was the star, blooming in all its purple splendor in acres of Kelowna test fields, almost as far as the eye could see. The scent of the blossoms drifted in the breeze. Murmuring honey bees busied themselves, knee deep in yellow pollen. The crop was ready for harvest–a magic moment. But we were there to hear what science had to say about it.

The Science Behind the Beauty

Dr Richard Barton PhD is a chemist and faculty member from the University of British Columbia. He became converted to the sound science behind herbal therapies a few years ago.

"I did a 180-degree turn–from being a thorough skeptic to believing in the efficacy of herbal preparations," he says.

Barton was seconded by Gahler to develop standardization methods, isolating and identifying the therapeutically active components of his certified organic echinacea plants and how the results work on the immune system.

Dr Tappan Basu, from the University of Alberta, is a professor of nutritional biochemistry. He became interested in echinacea because of his belief that the use of so-called "unconventional" therapies will continue to increase in the 21st century. He has published over 250 scientific studies of antioxidants and nutrition, all of which have had a long history in research. He assisted in completing phase one of a clinical study into the efficacy of specific phytochemical components of echinacea in immune system support.

Dr Rudolph Bauer is from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Biology in D?ldorf, Germany. Bauer’s name is synonymous with echinacea worldwide. He’s a leading authority and brought his own 140 published studies and numerous books to the table. He assisted in the interpretation of the research into echinacea’s unique ability to stimulate non-specific immune system function.

Jan Van Slama is the brilliant Hungarian biochemist who is "on the job" at Natural Factors’ demonstration gardens and growing operations. He oversees the extraction of the plants in the research labs: blossoms, leaves and roots, pulling everything together and making it work.

"What we’re doing has not been done anywhere in the world," says Gahler.

The uniqueness of Natural Factors’ research is why we’re all there. It’s what the Canadian health food retailers will be explaining to their customers; the identification of the most active components in the plant to get the highest levels of cichoric acid and alkylamides, along with a specialized series of extraction techniques blended together to make a product, says Gahler, that is "consistent in quality and proven effective." It stimulates the macrophages in the non-specific immune system to do their work of destroying and devouring bacteria and viruses.

Gahler admitted to a long love affair with echinacea purpurea and a 40-year history with its efficacy. It began with the work of his father, Swiss herbalist Jacob Gahler.

"These tests are now a model for all herbs," he says. "We can repeat the results of what we claim. This study gives us a fully standardized herbal product that is very sustainable.

"The plants are started in green houses and grown to maturity in the fields. We know when and at what time of day to pick the flowers. We process them immediately so that the active components are not destroyed and we carefully monitor extraction methods."

He looked across the pinky-purple haze of echinacea fields.

"We turned a dream into a goal."

According to Rudolph Bauer, there’s more to come.

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