"Sit down and feed, and welcome to our table." -William Shakespeare

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Elderberry is in; Echinacea is out...

Guess what?

Recent 'for real' research shows that echinacea doesn't work for your cold.  Or for cold prevention.

Say what???

 Yep.  True.

So what's a mama to do?  Well, don't throw out that echnacea tincture just yet!  Turns out echinacea really works on infected flesh, but the tincture needs direct contact with the infection- which makes it perfect for your sore throat!  I was skeptical, but recently had the good luck to come down with an awful sore throat.  I tried using the ecninacea-cinnamon tincture I make as a gargle- straight.  Knocked a serious sore throat right out in just three doses.  Nice!
Random pic of world's cutest baby

I first heard this 'herb news' from my doctor.  He trained in Germany so is pretty hip to herbal healing, for an MD.  He went on a tirade about echinacea in my first appointment with him, which was so surprising, I didn't counter.  Instead I came home and, in my next 4 minutes of spare time, tried to find these new studies.

The book Herbal Antibiotics, 2nd Edition: Natural Alternatives for Treating Drug-resistant Bacteria (provocative title, eh?) is where I found it.  (An excellent book, but not light bedtime reading.)  It gives a fascinating history of the herb (well, fascinating to an herb-nerd like me) and also lays out the most up-to-date research on echinacea.  Most of which, big surprise, was not conducted on this continent.

So.  Apparently echinacea's use is very new, in the grand scheme of things.  And while many German physicians use echinacea, they tend to use fresh juice.  I'm not sure I've ever even considered juicing fresh echinacea, and I've never seen it for sale anywhere!  So that's pretty key when looking at studies on the herb.  Water infusions (tea) of echinacea have shown in clinical trials to be pretty useless against active infections (something I've long suspected), alcohol preparations (tinctures) have a different action, and fresh juice does somehting altogether different.   

What gets confusing, thoough, is that while echinacea apparently won't get rid of your cold, or prevent a cold, it does 'work' as a tonic.  A tonic is an herb that will build up and strengthen your system over time, but shouldn't be what you reach for first during active infections (when you are actually sick, right now). 

Clear as mud, right?

Here's what might actually be helpful to remember:

-echinacea is still good
-Echinacea Augustafolia is medicinally useful, while Echinacea Purpurea (much cheaper) is not as powerful (just look on the label, it will say the variety)
-go for the tincture
-use it like a vitamin, not a medicine, unless you are applying it directly to infected or potentially infected flesh (it's cheaper in your natural first aid kit than lavender essential oil, anyway!)
-don't take echinacea continuously- during cold and flu season, a typical regime is 5 days on, 2 days off, or 2-3 weeks on, 1 week off
-elderberry does work well during colds

Save money by making your own elderberry syrup:
Elderberry Syrup How-To

Random pic of world's cutest baby

"Nobody seems more obsessed by diet than our anti-materialistic, otherworldly, New Age spiritual types.  But if the material world is merely illusion, an honest guru should be as content with Budweiser and bratwurst as with raw carrot juice, tofu and seaweed slime. "
~Edward Abbey


  1. Hi, just to give you food for thought. I am a german MD, practising in germany, and I never even heard of Echinacea juice. I think we tend to use the tincture ... but please educate me :)

    1. Hi, Trinity, thanks for the comment. Apparently 1 Tablespoon of the fresh juice per day is chemically much more active than the tincture. ? This info is from the latest version on Herbal Antibiotics that I mentioned in the post. According to that book, and my personal physician, some reputable studies were done on echinacea tincture and it failed to help cure coughs and colds. So my doctor was saying this prevents him fromk being able to use it in his 'evidence-based' practice. I'd never heard of using echunacea juice eithger, myself. Also according to the book the use of echinacea is pretty modern; apparently it didn't come into folk usein the USA untill the 1800's. That's the only source for this info I've found. HTH!

  2. Great info! Good to know. We love Elderberry syrup.

  3. Echinacea has NEVER worked for me. I've never understood why people raved about it. I got nothing from it. About 8 years ago, I started using astragalus instead and it was just magic. One of the few things I've taken that gave me noticeable relief in 10-15 minutes.

    Echinacea honey is supposed to help with fall allergies as an innoculation because it's related to ragweed. Who knew? (not honey with echinacea added to it. honey harvested from echinacea flowers) Google "echinacea honey." It's out there :)