Echinacea spp.

Echinacea spp.

Echinacea spp.


Names: Purple Coneflower

Habitat: Throughout North American prairies, plains, and open

Part Used: The root.


  • Echinacoside, in E. angustifolia but not E. purpurea.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.Unsaturated isobutyl amides, echinacin and others, in E. angustifolia
    and E. pallida.
  • Polysaccharides; a heteroxylan and an arabinorhamnogalactan
  • Polyacetylenes, at least 13 of which have been isolated. It has been
    postulated that these are artifacts formed during storage, since they are found in dried but not fresh roots of E. pallida.Essential oil, containing humulene, caryophyllene and its epoxide, germacrene D and methyl-p-hydroxycinnamate
  • Miscellaneous; vanillin linolenic acid derivatives, a labdane derivative, alkanes and flavonoids and the alkaloids tussilagine and isotussilagine.

Note: Sesquiterpene esters which were originally identified in
commercial samples of E. purpurea have since been shown to be due to the
presence of an adulterant, Parthenium integrifolium L. (American Feverfew). It appears that this adulteration may be widespread in commercial

Actions: Anti-microbial, immunomodulator, anti-catarrhal, alterative.

Indications: Echinacea is one of the primary remedies for
helping the body rid itself of microbial infections. It is often effective
against both bacterial and viral attacks, and may be used in conditions such as boils, septicaemia and similar infections. In conjunction with other herbs it
may be used for any infection anywhere in the body. For example in combination with Yarrow or Bearberry it will effectively stop cystitis. It is especially useful for infections of the upper respiratory tract such as laryngitis, tonsillitis and for catarrhal conditions of the nose and sinus. In general it may be used widely and safely. The tincture or decoction may be used as a mouthwash in the treatment of pyorrhoea and gingivitis. It may be used as an external lotion to help septic sores and cuts. Much research is focussing upon this plant, providing important insights into its activity and potential uses. Glycosides from the roots have mild activity against Streptococci and Staphylococcus aureus. Echinacoside was the most active with about 6 mg being equivalent to one unit of penicillin. The tincture was able to reduce both the rate of growth and the rate of reproduction of Trichomonas vaginalis, and was found to be effective in halting the recurrence of Candida 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. These macrophages initiate the destruction of pathogens and cancer cells. Echinacea activates macrophages by itself, independent of any effect with T-cells. A tumor-inhibiting principle has been found, a oncolytic lipid-soluble hydrocarbon from the essential oil. The echinacosides glycosides appear to be the primary `antibiotics’, but there are many other active substances present which probably function synergistically. The polysaccharides possess the best immune stimulating properties and are also antiviral. Other constituents have been shown to possess good anti-tumor, bacteriostatic, and anesthetic activity.

This all points to the conclusion that its actions relate to immune system
functioning on some level, helping deal with infections and stimulating the
immune response. 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 properidin levels, indication an activation of the complement system.

Preparations & Dosage: Decoction: put 1-2 teaspoonfuls of the root
in one cup of water and bring it slowly to boil. Let it simmer for 10-15
minutes. This should be drunk three times a day. Tincture: take 1-4 ml of the
tincture three times a day. Echinacea is often, inappropriately, used as
a daily `immune support’ (whatever that is!). A quote from Dr. Daniel Mowrey’s
excellent review of Echinacea in Next Generation Herbal Medicine is
pertinent here:

“Daily intake should be restricted to what is deemed necessary. During cold
and flu season, two to four capsules per day is sufficient. In the presence of
acute infection, that dosage may be increased, without danger, to more than 8 capsules. In the presence of chronic infections, such as chronic hepatitis,
echinacea may be used continuously for several months. However, for the
maintenance of a healthy immune system, echinacea is most wisely used
periodically–a few weeks on, and a few weeks off, throughout the year.
Echinacea is not a tonic in all aspects; granted that it has been observed to
stabilize the production of neutrophils, such tonic action has not been
observed on other immune factors, such as properdin production. In the absence of conclusive experimental findings, it is both safe and wise to assume that the constant, unremitting use of echinacea could be stressful on certain aspects of the immune system. During breaks, the immune system will adapt and increase in natural strength.”

Citations from the Medline database for the genus Echinacea


Bauer R Foster S Analysis of alkamides and caffeic acid derivatives from Echinacea simulata and E. paradoxa roots.

Planta Med 1991 Oct;57(5):447-9

Bauer VR Jurcic K Puhlmann J Wagner H
[Immunologic in vivo and in vitro studies on Echinacea extracts]

Arzneimittelforschung 1988 Feb;38(2):276-81 (Published in German)

Ethanolic extracts of Echinacea purpurea, E. pallida and E. angustifolia roots
were examined for immunological activity in the carbon clearance test with
mice and in the granulocyte test. In the in vivo experiment all extracts,
administered orally, were found to enhance phagocytosis significantly. These
results correlate with the stimulation of phagocytosis in the in vitro
granulocyte test. The lipophilic fractions of the extracts appeared to be more
active than the polar fractions. All extracts were analyzed by HPLC in order
to correlate the chemical constituents with the immunological activities.

Coeugniet EG Elek E
Immunomodulation with Viscum album and Echinacea purpurea extracts.

Onkologie 1987 Jun;10(3 Suppl):27-33

Extracts of Viscum album (Plenosol) and Echinacea purpurea (Echinacin) are
used clinically for their non-specific action on cell- mediated immunity. In
vitro we could prove that these two extracts have a stimulating effect on the
production of lymphokines by lymphocytes and in the transformation test. A
toxic effect on cells was produced only with very high, clinically irrelevant
concentrations. Clinical application of these extracts can produce a
stimulation of cell-mediated immunity (one therapeutic administration followed
by a free interval of one week) or can have a depressive action (daily
administrations of higher doses). These observations were confirmed by
lymphokine production and assay, 3H-thymidine incorporation and a skin test
with recall antigens (Multitest Merieux).

Gaisbauer M Schleich T Stickl HA Wilczek I
[The effect of Echinacea purpurea Moench on phagocytosis in granulocytes
measured by chemiluminescence]

Arzneimittelforschung 1990 May;40(5):594-8 (Published in
German)Chemiluminescence was used as an indicator for phagocytic activity of granulocytes induced by zymosan in whole blood. Luminol was used to amplify the luminescence measured. Methods and conditions of the trial were varied and the dependence on the methods applied became evident. The effects of echinacea-extract (Echinacin) and phorbolester (PMA) in various concentrations on phagocytic activity of whole blood heparinized with 10 I.E./ml heparin as well as on phagocytic activity of erytrocytolized blood were investigated. The reaction of the granulocytes–phagocytis and therefore chemilumenescence–under the influence of echinacea extract depends on the doses and methods applied. Therefore standardized methods and investigations of various immunoparameters as well as clinical investigations are necessary to prove the immunostimulative effect of socalled immunotherapeutics. This has not been undertaken up to now. Dose and method dependent single results cannot be a convincing justification for specific therapeutic medication.

Heinzer F Chavanne M Meusy JP Maitre HP Giger E Baumann TW
[The classification of therapeutically used species of the genus

Pharm Acta Helv 1988;63(4-5):132-6 (Published in German)

Lersch C Zeuner M Bauer A Siebenrock K Hart R Wagner F Fink U Dancygier
H Classen M Stimulation of the immune response in outpatients with hepatocellular carcinomas by low doses of cyclophosphamide (LDCY), echinacea purpurea extracts (Echinacin) and thymostimulin.

Arch Geschwulstforsch 1990;60(5):379-83

Outpatients with inoperable far advanced hepato-cellular carcinomas (n = 5)
were treated with LDCY–300 mg/m2 i.v. every 28 days-, echinacin–60 mg/m2 i.m.–and thymostimulin–30 mg/m2 i.m., day 3-10 after LDCY, then twice a week. Therapy was well tolerated by all patients. Their Karnofsky’ index increased for 10% in the mean. A stable disease for more than 8 weeks was documented by abdominal ultrasonography in one patient. Serum levels of Alpha-Fetoprotein (AFP), Carcinoembryonic Antigen (CEA) and Tissue Polypeptide Antigen (TPA) did not increase in 2 patients. Median survival time was 2.5 months. One patient is still alive after 8 months. Absolute numbers of CD8+ cells significantly (p less than 0.02) decreased for 7% 1 day after LDCY,
whereas CD4+ cells increased (p less than 0.02) from day 1-7. Numbers of
natural killer (NK-) cells increased for 17% (p less than 0.05), their
activity for 90% (p less than 0.05). Activities of peripheral polymorphs (p
less than 0.05) increased for 27% and of Lymphokine Activated Killer (LAK-)
cells for 180% (p less than 0.05).

Luettig B Steinmuller C Gifford GE Wagner H Lohmann-Matthes ML
Macrophage activation by the polysaccharide arabinogalactan isolated from
plant cell cultures of Echinacea purpurea.

J Natl Cancer Inst 1989 May 3;81(9):669-75

In this study, acidic arabinogalactan, a highly purified polysaccharide from
plant cell cultures of Echinacea purpurea, with a molecular weight of 75, 000,
was effective in activating macrophages to cytotoxicity against tumor cells
and micro-organisms (Leishmania enriettii). Furthermore, this polysaccharide
induced macrophages to produce tumor necrosis factor (TNF-alpha),
interleukin-1 (IL-1), and interferon-beta 2. Arabinogalactan did not activate
B cells and did not induce T cells to produce interleukin-2, interferon-beta
2, or interferon-gamma, but it did induce a slight increase in T-cell
proliferation. When injected ip, this agent stimulated macrophages, a finding
that may have therapeutic implications in the defense against tumors and
infectious diseases.

Mose J

Effect of echinacin on phagocytosis and natural killer cells.

Med Welt 34: 1463-7, 1983

Orinda D Diederich J Wacker A
[Antiviral activity of components of Echinacea purpurea]

Arzneimittelforschung 1973 Aug;23(8):1119-20 (Published in German)

Roesler J Emmendorffer A Steinmuller C Luettig B Wagner H Lohmann-Matthes ML  Application of purified polysaccharides from cell cultures of the plant Echinacea purpurea to test subjects mediates activation of the phagocyte system.

Int J Immunopharmacol 1991;13(7):931-41

Polysaccharides purified from large-scale cell cultures of the plant Echinacea
purpurea were tested for their ability to activate human phagocytes in vitro
and in vivo. These substances enhanced the spontaneous motility of PMN under soft agar and increased the ability of these cells to kill staphylococci.
Monocytes were activated to secrete TNF-alpha, IL-6 and IL-1 whereas class II expression was unaffected. Intravenous application of the polysaccharides to test subjects immediately induced a fall in the number of PMN in the
peripheral blood, indicating activation of adherence to endothelial cells.
This fall was followed by a leukocytosis due to an increase in the number of
PMN and a lesser increase of monocytes. The appearance of stab cells and some juvenile forms and even myelocytes indicated the migration of cells from the bone marrow into the peripheral blood. The acute phase C-reactive protein (CRP) was induced, probably due to activation of monocytes and macrophages to produce IL-6. In addition a moderate acceleration of the erythrocyte sedimentation rate was observed. Altogether, as in mice, the polysaccharides could induce acute phase reactions and activation of phagocytes in humans. The possibility of clinical use is discussed.

Roesler J Steinmuller C Kiderlen A Emmendorffer A Wagner H
Lohmann-Matthes ML  Application of purified polysaccharides from cell cultures of the plant Echinacea purpurea to mice mediates protection against systemic infections withListeria monocytogenes and Candida albicans.

Int J Immunopharmacol 1991;13(1):27-37

Purified polysaccharides from cell cultures of the plant Echinacea purpurea
were investigated for their ability to enhance phagocytes’ activities
regarding nonspecific immunity in vitro and in vivo. Macrophages (M phi) from
different organ origin could be activated to produce IL-1, TNF alpha and IL-6,
to produce elevated amounts of reactive oxygen intermediates and to inhibit
growth of Candida albicans in vitro. Furthermore, in vivo the substances could
induce increased proliferation of phagocytes in spleen and bone marrow and
migration of granulocytes to the peripheral blood. These effects indeed
resulted in excellent protection of mice against the consequences of lethal
infections with one predominantly M phi dependent and one predominantly
granulocyte dependent pathogen, Listeria monocytogenes and C. albicans,
respectively. Specific immune responses to sheep red blood cells (antibody
production) and to listeria (DTH) were not affected by the polysaccharides.
The possibility of clinical use is discussed.

Samochowiec E Urbanska L Manka W Stolarska E
[Evaluation of the effect of Calendula officinalis and Echinacea
angustifolia extracts of Trichomonas vaginalis in vitro]

Wiad Parazytol 1979;25(1):77-81 (Published in Polish)

Schumacher A Friedberg KD
[The effect of Echinacea angustifolia on non-specific cellular immunity in
the mouse]

Arzneimittelforschung 1991 Feb;41(2):141-7 (Published in German)

Echinacea belongs to the most usable plants in medical treatment since many years. It is applicable in the fields of homoepathy and allopathy, however, there are many different ways of treatment. Two species are listed in the European Pharmacopoea: Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea. They differ in morphology and their chemical composition. There have been chemical and biological analyses of Echinacea for about 80 years. After exact investigations of these reports, the following result were found: Most chemical analyses were done with Echinacea angustifolia, especially the older ones, whereas biological activity was tested with Echinacea purpurea. In almost all of these experiments, proprietaries were preferred to use in contrast to any plant extracts. Most of the reports, which declared the
stimulating biological activity of Echinacea could not resist any critical
opinion. So the frequency of medical application of this drug is mainly due to
delivered practical knowledge. The experiments described in this study were
practised with a water- soluble plant extract of Echinacea angustifolia.
Echinacosid one of its low-molecular compounds and proprietaries which
contains this plant. Their influence on the unspecified cellular immunity of
the mouse after intraperitoneal, intravenous or peroral application was
investigated. Under various conditions no effects on the immuno system could be found using the carbon clearance test.

Stimpel M Proksch A Wagner H Lohmann-Matthes ML
Macrophage activation and induction of macrophage cytotoxicity by purified
polysaccharide fractions from the plant Echinacea purpurea.

Infect Immun 1984 Dec;46(3):845-9

Purified polysaccharides (EPS) prepared from the plant Echinacea purpurea are shown to strongly activate macrophages. Macrophages activated with these substances develop pronounced extracellular cytotoxicity against tumor targets. The activation is brought about by EPS alone and is independent of any cooperative effect with lymphocytes. Also the production and secretion of oxygen radicals and interleukin 1 by macrophages is increased after activation with EPS. Cells of the macrophages lineage seem to be the main target for the action of these polysaccharides. EPS has no effect on T lymphocytes. B ymphocytes show a comparatively modest proliferation after incubation with E. purpurea EPS. Thus, these compounds, which are at least in tissue culture completely nontoxic, may be suited to activate in vivo cells of the macrophage system to cytotoxicity. They may therefore be of relevance in tumor and infectious systems.

Tragni E Galli CL Tubaro A Del Negro P Della Loggia R
Anti-inflammatory activity of Echinacea angustifolia fractions separated on
the basis of molecular weight.

Pharmacol Res Commun 1988 Dec;20 Suppl 5:87-90

Five fractions of an aqueous extract obtained from the roots of Echinacea
angustifolia were separated on the basis of molecular weight. The topical
anti-inflammatory activity of the fractions has been evaluated in mice using
the Croton oil ear test. The fraction with a molecular weight between 30, 000
and 100, 000 was the most active in inhibiting the oedema; it also reduced the
infiltration of inflammatory cells. The activity of this fraction was
comparable with that of a raw polysaccharidic extract obtained from E.
angustifolia roots by differential solubility. The high-molecular weight
polysaccharides are therefore proposed as the anti-inflammatory principles of
the plant.

Tubaro A Tragni E Del Negro P Galli CL Della Loggia R
Anti-inflammatory activity of a polysaccharidic fraction of Echinacea

J Pharm Pharmacol 1987 Jul;39(7):567-9

The anti-inflammatory activity of a polysaccharidic fraction (EPF) obtained
from Echinacea angustifolia roots has been examined using the carrageenan paw
oedema and the croton oil ear test. EPF (0.5 mg kg-1 i.v.) almost inhibited
the carrageenan-induced oedema over 8 h and furthermore, EPF, topically
applied, inhibited mouse ear oedema induced by croton oil. EPF also reduced
the leukocytic infiltration of the croton oil dermatitis, evaluated both as
peroxidase activity and histologically. After topical application EPF appears
to be slightly inferior in potency to indomethacin. The results suggest that
the anti-inflammatory activity of E. angustifolia resides in its
polysaccharidic content.

Voaden D and Jacobson M:

Tumor inhibitors. 3. Identification and synthesis of an oncolytic hydrocar
bon from American coneflower roots.

J Med Chem 15:619-23, 1972

Wacker A Hilbig W
[Virus-inhibition by echinacea purpurea (author’s transl)]

Planta Med 1978 Feb;33(1):89-102 (Published in German)

Wagner V, Proksch A, Riess-Maurer, et al:

Imunostimulating polysaccharides (heteroglycanes) of higher plants –
preliminary communications. Arzneim Forsch 34:659-660, 1984

[Proceedings: Echinacea activates the properdin system]
Echinacea aktiviert das Properdinsystem

Med Monatsschr 1976 Jan;30(1):32-3 (Published in German)

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Written by David L. Hoffmann BSc Hons MNIMH

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