All we have space for here is a brief review so please refer to a book written by Steven Foster, one of America’s foremost experts on this impressive herb.
Steven Foster (1991) Echinacea, Natures Immune Enhancer. Healing Arts Press, Rochester
As is often the case when a plant is taken up by researchers, there has been much laboratory research but few clinical studies. Research suggests that the echinacosides glycosides appear to be primary anti-microbial constituents in Echinacea. However there are many other biologically active substances present, and there is evidence that they work synergistically. The polysaccharides, for example, possess the best immune stimulating properties and are also antiviral. Other constituents have been shown to possess good anti-tumor, bacteriostatic, and anesthetic activity. Summarizing briefly the research into its various action:
- Glycosides from the roots have mild activity against Streptococciand Staphylococcus aureus. Echinacoside was the most active with about 6 mg being equivalent to one unit of penicillin.
- Echinacea tincture was able to reduce both the rate of growth and the rate of reproduction of Trichomonas vaginalis, a common pathogen of the reproductive system.
- Echinaceawas found to be effective in halting the recurrence ofCandida albicans infection.
- It seems to prevent infection and repair tissue damaged by infection, partially through inhibiting the activity of the enzyme hyaluronidase. The hyaluronidase system is a primary defense mechanism, involving connective ground substance, or hyaluronic acid, acting as a barrier against pathogenic organisms. Some pathogens activate an enzyme, hyaluronidase, which once activated destroys the integrity of the ground substance. This causes the barrier to become leaky, allowing pathogens to invade, attach themselves to exposed cells, penetrate the membrane and kill the cell. The result as an inflammatory infection. Echinacea inhibits the action of hyaluronidase by bonding with it in some way, resulting in a temporary increase in the integrity of the barrier. Fewer pathogens are able to stimulate the destruction of the ground substance. A range of constituents mediate this process, especially a complex polysaccharide called echinacin B.
- This anti-hyaluronidase action is involved in regeneration of connective tissue destroyed during infection and in the elimination of pathogenic organisms creating the infection.
- Purified polysaccharides prepared from Echinacea possess a strong activating force on the body’s macrophage-mediated defense system. As already discussed, the large macrophages initiate the destruction of pathogens cancer cells. Echinacea activates macrophages by itself, independent of any effect with T-cells. The macrophages are instrumental in the production and secretion of interleukin 1 and B-cells.
- USDA researchers have discovered a tumor-inhibiting principle in Echinacea, a oncolytic lipid-soluble hydrocarbon from the essential oil.
Summarizing we can say that its actions relate to immune system functioning, helping the prevention and cure of various pathogenic infections, and stimulating the immune response in a number of ways. It activates the macrophages that destroy both cancerous cells and pathogens, increases the level of phagocytosis by raising levels of white blood cells such as the neutrophils, monocytes, eosinophils, and B lymphocytes. It also has an effect on properdin levels, indication an activation of the complement system.