As winter rapidly approaches, so does the risk for cold and flu. Stuffy noses, congested heads, low-grade fevers and sore throats are common this time of year. While practicing proper hand washing, covering your mouth when you cough and eating a diet loaded with fresh fruits and veggies is a great way to keep germs at bay, there are other natural ways to boost your immune system and stay well all winter long.
Herbs have been used for thousands of years as a way to improve overall health and wellness. The ancient Indians, Chinese, Babylonians, Egyptians and Native Americans were all master herbalists. The Greeks and Romans also used herbs and surgeons traveling with the Roman army shared their medicinal plant knowledge throughout the Roman Empire, Germany, Spain, France and England.
Although herbal therapy is considered alternative in many developed countries, there are still places in the world where the traditional use of herbs is primary and often the only type of therapy used.
A powerful plant
Plants are powerful; there is no doubt about it. Echinacea is one plant that contains a host of therapeutic compounds that are beneficial for overall health and wellness. Echinacea belongs to the family Asteraceae or Coneflower. Archeologists have found evidence from 400 years ago that Native Americans used echinacea to remedy wounds, burns, and a general ” cure-all.”
Varieties of Echninacea
Although there are nine different species of echinacea, only three contain medicinal value.
Echinacea Angustifolia – This species has very large violet flowers with a dark cone center and large leaves. It is often referred to as Black Samson Coneflower. This perennial herb is found in plains states and is used mostly to treat snakebites, remove toxins and keep infections at bay.
Echinacea Pallida – This species is known better as the Pale Purple Coneflower and has a rose colored flower with somewhat droopy flowers. Often used by the plain Indians to fight illnesses, this herb stimulates the production of white blood cells and regulates red ones. It works to clean out the lymph system, may inhibit tumor formation and is also antiallergenic.
Echinacea Purpurea – This pretty and potent flower goes by the name Big Purple Coneflower and has reddish purple flowers that are about 4 inches in diameter and grows to 5 feet tall. Well revered in Europe for its ability to boost the immune system, this herb is commonly grown as an ornamental plant in gardens.
One way to reap the many benefits of echinacea is to enjoy a cup of warm tea. Echinacea tea (which may contain one or more varieties of the herb) contains many vitamins and minerals including vitamins A, B-complex and E along with magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium and sodium.
In addition, the tea contains polysaccharides – located in the above-ground parts of the plant that are responsible for triggering the immune system and glycoproteins, alkamides, volatile oils and flavonoids that are helpful therapeutic compounds found in the roots.
Here are just a few of the many known benefits of drinking a cup of warm echinacea tea daily:
Boost your immune system: Echinacea tea activates T-cell renewal and helps with the production of antibodies and interferon, known for blocking viral infections.
Fight off the common cold: Studies show that drinking echinacea tea can shorten the duration of a normal cold by 1.4 days on average. The moment you feel a cold or flu approaching, have a cup of tea and continue to enjoy a cup daily until the symptoms subside. For even greater preventative benefits, start drinking a cup of tea daily before cold season hits.
Reduce symptoms of bronchial infection and laryngitis: If you have come down with a bronchial infection or laryngitis, try a few cups of echinacea tea daily to alleviate symptoms and speed recovery. Echinacea tea will help reduce inflammation and fight bacteria.
Increase the therapeutic value of your tea by adding some cinnamon and ginger. Your voice will be strengthened in no time. Try making a tea, steep some ginger root and cinnamon. Allow the tea to cool and pour into a spray bottle. Shake and spray the tea into your mouth for relief when needed.
Remedy an ear infection: An inner ear infection is often the result of bacteria or a virus. If you have a cold or allergies, you are more likely to develop an inner ear infection. According to New York University Langone Medical Center, echinacea may be a useful remedy for an inner ear infection. Take 2 grams of dried herb in the form of tea three times daily for up to ten days to speed healing of ear infections.
Other conditions that echinacea tea may help:
- Reduce symptoms of hayfever and allergies
- Reduce swollen glands
- Relieve urinary tract infections
- Eases pain from arthritis
- Speed healing of candida and herpes
- Speed healing of joint disorders and muscle problems
- Cleans the liver, kidneys, lymphatic system and glands
- Speed healing of urinary tract infections
- Speed healing of infections in the digestive tract
- Speed healing skin conditions such as eczema, boils and acne
- Reduce appearance of wrinkles and other signs of aging (cool tea may be used as a facial toner)
- Increase energy
How to make the perfect cup of echinacea tea
If you have echinacea plants it is fun and delicious to make your own tea, here’s how to do it:
Mix one part echinacea including leaves, flowers and roots with ¼ part lemon grass and ¼ part mint leaves (of any kind). Pour hot water over the leaves and let it steep for five minutes. Strain and add raw honey to taste.
If you don’t have plants, you can buy loose leaf tea leaves and plant parts and brew in a similar fashion. Be sure to purchase your tea from a reputable dealer for best results.
If you can’t find loose leaf leaves, purchase a high quality tea bag (such as this Traditional Medicinals Organic Echninacea Tea) and brew as directed. Add raw honey or raw stevia to taste.
Echinacea is clearly a potent therapeutic herb that has numerous health benefits. However, people with compromised immune systems such as HIV, AIDs, multiple sclerosis or tuberculosis should not use the herb without supervision from a health professional.
If you are allergic to plants in the Asteraceae family such as daisy, sunflower, ragweed and chrysanthemum, you may also be allergic to echinacea.