ECHINACEA PURPUREA ROOT
Echinacea is perhaps one of the best known herbal remedies - it is widely available in all sorts of preparations and combinations. Originally it was a sacred medicine plant of Native Americans, particularly among the Plains Indians, who not only used it for healing, but also as a smoking herb and to make themselves resistant to heat, e.g. in order to better endure the heat of sweatlodges, or to be able to hold a live coal in their mouth at medicine shows. At first the white settlers largely ignored this remedy, until the Eclectics began to use it, but not to any great extent. But one day a German lay physician, by the name of H.C.F. Meyer urged the most eminent eclectics of the time to take a closer look at one of his concoctions, which contained Echinacea. Eventually, John King gave it a try and soon became convinced of its efficacy, after trying it on his wife who was suffering from cancer at the time. Echinacea seemed to be the only remedy that was effective in slowing progress of the disease and easing her pain. To cut a long story short, Echinacea reached Europe by the end of the 1800 and was most enthusiastically received in Germany, where most studies have been conducted since. Meanwhile, America all but forgot this healing treasure - its fame and glory sunk with the reputation of the Eclectics who had helped to popularise it - until quite recently. With the recent rise of interest in herbal medicines Echinacea also has been resurrected and today is once again hailed as a panacea. Panaceas have a major disadvantage, however - they sound too good to be true. And thus, before long, some pharmacist comes along with a mission on his mind: to discredit the fabulous claims. That is the current situation - gazillion Echinacea products are flushing the market claiming relief from every conceivable disease - and an equivalent flood of studies that seek to disprove these claims. A further problem with wonder-drug fads is the systematic decimation of wild plants which are collected in a feverish effort to cash in on the boom. This has happened in America, where a sudden rush on Echinacea has begun to seriously threaten wild stands. Much of Europe's supplies are grown in cultivation within Europe, where the herb has been in popular use for much of the last century.
So what is one to believe' Firstly, it is important to understand the mode of action of this herb. Echinacea can be described as an alterative, which explains the many different and seemingly conflicting claims about it. It is an immuno-stimulant, which means that it boosts the immune system to better deal with infections of many varied types, although it is not in itself an antiseptic. It also increases circulation to the capillaries, thus facilitating transportation of white blood cells, which are so crucial in fighting infections. Thus, it is considered an excellent remedy to boost the immune system during the cold season (better as a preventative remedy than as an agent for treating acute infection), or as a remedy to fight chronic inflammation or infection of the urinary system or lungs. The Eclectics recommended it as a blood purifier. At the time of the Eclectics Echinacea also became a popular remedy for syphilis and gonorrhoea as well as feverish infections such as typhoid. It is interesting to note that Native Americans mostly used it as a remedy for snake bites, for which it appears to be quite effective. They also used it externally for ulcers, eczema and conjunctivitis and as a gargle for sore throat and mouth ulcers.
Although it is known that the Echinacea was an important medicine and magical plant for the Plains Indians, not much is known about the sacred uses of this plant. It played a role in sweat lodge rituals and may have been smoked in the sacred pipe for ritual purposes.