A lot of people take echinacea tea as they believe it helps prevent and even stop these ailments. After all, the herb has long been known as an immunostimulant that helps strengthen the immune system and ward off infections.
But are there enough scientific bases for this belief?
The echinacea is a genus of herbaceous flowering blooming tea balls plants that belong to the daisy family. The genus has nine different species and these are commonly called purple coneflowers. The plants are typically found in eastern and central parts of North America, where they are seen growing in rolling prairies and open wooded areas. They have large, showy heads of composite flowers, and are in full bloom during the summer.
Various parts of the echinacea plant, most notably the roots, leaves, flowers and stems, are dried and then made into teas, juices, tonics, tinctures, extracts, tablets and capsules.
The early Americans swore by the power and strength of echinacea tea in fighting off infections. They even used it in the treatment of poisonous snake bites and insect bites. In the 1800s, echinacea was an important player in United States pharmacopoeia where it was considered a potent antibiotic. Subsequently, echinacea was also used by the Germans for many medical purposes. Its use then dropped off over the years as new antibiotics were discovered. However, it seems to have encountered a renaissance in recent years as interest in natural health grew by leaps and bounds.
There have been a number of scientific studies on echinacea, most of them examining the active constituents of the plant and how these act on the human system. The actions of echinacea herb and tea are believed to be due to polysaccharide compounds called fructofuranosides such as heteroxylan, arabinogalactan, alkylamides and echinacosides.
Many of the compounds in echinacea tea are believed to help stimulate various aspects of the immune system including macrophage and lymphocyte function. The activity of the body’s natural killer cells is increased and there may be an increase in interferon production and phagocytosis. These studies have shown that these increase the number of white blood cells and boost the activity of other immune cells.
Indeed, there had been studies conducted that seemed to support the immune system-boosting capabilities of echinacea. In September 2006, researchers led by Dr. Sachin A. Shah of the University of Connecticut reported that the use of echinacea before the onset of full-blown symptoms of the common cold lowers the incidence by more than 60% and its duration cut by almost two full days. In 2007, Dr. Craig Coleman of the same institution conducted a meta-analysis on 1,600 individuals which found that echinacea may reduce the incidence of a cold.
However, a study published in 2005 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that echinacea was no more effective than a placebo in preventing colds. It also did not decrease the harshness of the cold symptoms.
Two studies funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine also did not find any benefit from echinacea for the common cold in either children or adults. A 2004 study, for instance, found that taking