There are two sources of Echinacea used in herbal medicine, the purple-leaved Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) and the narrow-leaved Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia). Similar effects are most commonly used and studied with the purple-leaved cassava. Echinacea is one of the most commonly used herbs, mostly used for its immune-boosting effects.
The immune-boosting active substances it contains can be devided into 4 groups: alkalmides, glycoproteins, polysaccharides (complex carbohydrates, strach and fibre) and caffeic acid derivatives.
Almost all compounds in the immune system are glycoproteins, so the immune-boosting effects of glycoproteins need to be explained further.
Alkamides are a characteristic constituent of the echinacea root, and recent studies have shown that echinacea has a detectable increase in alkamides. Alkamides may also have immune-boosting properties by acting on CB2 receptors that sense the active ingredient of the hemp plant (THC). Several studies have confirmed that the immune system of animals lacking CB2 receptors did not function properly.
The polysaccharides in echinacea are fermented by the 'good bacteria' of the intestinal tract and serve as food for them, thus helping to support the proper composition of the intestinal flora. The health of the gut flora is essential of the immune system, the 'good' bacteria take the place of infections, thus the gut flora (and the polysaccharides - fibres that feed them) indirectly strenghten the immune system.
Coffee acid derivatives (including chlorogenic acid) are found in both the roots and leaves of echinacea. These compounds act on immune cell function.
Many studies have confirmed the immune-boosting effects of echinacea. It is most commonly used to treat various respiratory viral infections and colds. Its anti-inflammatory role is questionable, as the immune system uses inflammatory cells to eradicate infections, so many of the active ingredients in echinacea are pro-inflammatory, but there are also anti-inflammatory agents to counteract this.
It is not recommended for people with autoimmune diseases - as the main treatment is to lower the immune system. Studies have shown that 900-1500 mg of echinacea per day in the form of dehydrated powder is recommended. An alcoholic tincture (leaves and stem) of 10 ml per day is recommended. However, in the absence of comprehensive studies, it is uncertain whether this is the optimal dose.
Generally, no side effects are experienced at these doses, but echinacea allergy may occur, most likely in those who suffer from ragweed allergy. Diarrhoea, vomiting and throat scratching may occur as allergic reactions.