Does Echinacea have the potential to positively boost immune system activity? Absolutely. Depending on how you use it! The mechanisms of action that allow Echinacea to help us also have the potential to greatly exacerbate autoimmune conditions and can mask underlying nutrient deficiencies. The part of the plant that is used (roots or aerials) affects the amount and type of constituents in the medicine. Water extractions (tea) and alcohol tinctures of Echinacea feature two different phytochemical profiles (one weighted with immunomodulating polysaccharides and one weighted with more antiviral alkamides). There are three varieties of Echinacea but you will mostly see two on the market, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea purpurea and these also have varying levels of important constituents. Traditionally, Echinacea was never used long term and in my practice, I would never suggest dosing Echinacea for more than 48 hours unless I am using it for other applications outside of immunity.
It is important to remember that when it comes to holistic medicine, natural does not mean neutral. Plants have side effects! Just like western medications, every single supplement and herb has a unique reaction in the body. Some should not be mixed with blood thinners or steroids, diabetes or thyroid medications, birth control or even certain vitamins. Even still, some herbs shouldn’t even be mixed with each other! I don’t say this to deter anyone from leaning towards a holistic approach to health. Quite the opposite. Plants and nutritious foods have infinite healing potential. They just have to be applied the right way. Be careful with the information you take in around plant medicine and nutrition. Always make sure you have the guidance of a qualified clinical herbalist and a good relationship with your doctor.