Smorgasbord Health Column – The Medicine Woman’s Treasure Chest – Herbal Medicine – A little health insurance with Echinacea


What is Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine has been part of our ancient and more modern history for thousands of years. Unfortunately there is no money to be made by the pharmaceutical companies when only a plant is processed. Therefore in the last twenty years particularly there has been a focused effort, at a very high level, to downgrade all alternative therapies including herbal remedies to quackery.  We can only now suggest that an alternative therapy MAY help you.

A commonsense warning about herbal medicines.

Herbal medicines should be treated with respect and should only be used if you have read all the contraindications, possible side effects and never with any prescribed medication unless you have cleared with your doctor first.

This is particularly important if you are pregnant or trying to become pregnant as taking specific herbal medicines can cause harm.

Go to a qualified herbalist or if you buy over the counter on online read all the instructions beforehand or enclosed in the packet. I always buy the more expensive and professionally prepared tinctures and have stayed with that brand for the last twenty years.

Having established that; I want to introduce you to herbs that can be taken as a prepared tincture but also those that you can include in your diet which may improve and maintain your health. This week I am sharing the benefits of Echinacea, a herb that may boost your immune system.

This year has already been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and the fear is that as we approach this year’s flu season, we might tip over into another wave. That remains to be seen as there are fundamental differences between the two. However, it does pay to be careful and I will certainly continue to use a mask for shopping through the winter months and take the precautions that are now in place for social distancing.

Normally at this time of year I have a few drops of the good stuff every day.. and no I am not referring to the medicinal brandy in the sideboard in the dining-room. I am talking about Echinacea in the form of a tincture. From October I have 15 drops in a little water daily and touch wood…..I had not had a cold for many years or the flu until just before Christmas 2019 after a routine visit to Wexford hospital where we both sat in a small waiting room with a lady coughing and spluttering. We went out and stood in the hall for two hours, but three days later on Christmas Eve we both went down with a very heavy dose of flu that lingered for weeks. I lost my sense of taste and smell and it was only when that appeared on the probable symptoms list that we wondered if we had in fact had Covid.

Thankfully I had already done our Christmas shopping.. not that we ate much and did not go out until the first week in January when we were on the mend. We did not see anyone over the festive season even neighbours as we did not feel like socialising. Just as well. However, we later found out that other family members had the same flu around the same time. We believe it was around a lot earlier than first identified.

If it was indeed Covid 19 then we managed to shake it off although my sense of taste only came back a few months later. We invest quite a bit of time in keeping our immune systems robust and are grateful that we did not develop the more dangerous respiratory complications. But it is not something I wish to repeat.

Recently I ran a series designed to boost the resilience to any opportunistic pathogen and you can find details here: Smorgasbord Health Column – Project 101 – Resilience – An opportunity to get fighting fit – Round Up –

Unfortunately, if you have not been following a varied and healthy diet and providing your body with the nutrients it needs to maintain a healthy immune system, taking 15 drops of echinacea is not going to be much help.

Echinacea is a herb that is very widely used to boost the immune system and help to alleviate the symptoms of colds and flu, naturally.

The Latin name for this herb is Echinacea Purpurea (Purple coneflower). It is considered to be the primary herbal remedy for the immune system and was first used in a healing capacity by the Native American Indians. They used it primarily for boils, abscesses and snakebites. They also chewed the roots for toothaches, colds, sore throats and coughs. The herb itself actually has no direct effect on bacteria or viruses but instead it is its effect on our own immune system that aids treatment of an infection.

Other possible therapeutic benefits need further investigation but Echinacea may be helpful for yeast infections.. anxiety, migraines, bladder infections and eye infections. However, most of these are the result of an impaired immune system, which is where the benefit of the herb may lie.

Buying Echinacea.

The herbal tincture that you will see in health food shops and pharmacies is made from the roots, flowers and seeds of the plant. You can now buy capsules but I still prefer to use the tincture as I feel it is easier for the body to absorb and faster acting.

When choosing an herbal tincture it is important to buy a high quality product that is holistically standardised. This means that the chemical constituents of the plant are not tampered with in any way and the end product includes the whole spectrum of healing benefits. It is believed that the active ingredients in a plant work together to provide the overall effect. Some processing practices remove or reduce some of the elements of the plant making them less effective. Do make a point to check your labels, or the details of the product, before you buy.

One of the other things that I have to mention is that we are not allowed to claim that any diet, remedy or therapeutic therapy can cure you of anything. Please consider that said.

Echinacea acts as an immune stimulant that mobilises our defence system by activating and stimulating the release of white blood cells (leukocytes) which fight infection. The function of our T-cells is enhanced and there is an increase in the number of macrophages, the cells that consume and destroy foreign bodies such as bacteria.

One of the plant’s components is Echinacin, which promotes the growth of new tissue, activating fibroblasts, which are the cells that are responsible for encouraging wound healing.

Echinacea can be taken when an infection begins and it can reduce the symptoms and speed recovery by enhancing the immune system’s own abilities. It can also be taken over a longer period to increase the body’s resistance to infection.

  • I usually recommend that a person start taking 15 drops once a day in the middle of October through to the middle of March if they are prone to colds.
  • Children can take 7 drops of the herb for the same time span if they are under 12 years old.
  • If you start a cold or the flu you can take 15 drops, two or three times a day in a little water and children can take 7 drops two or three times a day.
  • It is recommended that you do not stay at this dosage for longer than a couple of months but the usual time is the duration of the infection plus a week, then reduce down to the long term daily dose.

You will find that there are a number of products available that contain Echinacea and two of the most effective, in my book, are the toothpaste which helps prevent bacterial build-up in the form of plaque and skin cream which works well on dry and infected skin.

You can buy Echinacea tea in health food shops and with the addition of a slice of fresh lemon and a teaspoon of honey this can be very soothing in the early stages of a cold and also may help you reduce the symptoms.

Echinacea can also be used for pets but there are specific guidelines that need to be followed.

Contraindications for the use of Echinacea.

  1. If you notice a reaction such as flushing in your face or a rash
  2. You suffer with an autoimmune disease such as arthritis or psoriasis
  3. Check with a qualified herbalists if you have exhibited allergies to certain plants such as ragweed, marigolds or daisies)
  4. Check with a herbalist if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  5. Do not give to children under the age of 12.

The rule is that if you are taking any over the counter or prescribed medication you must always check for interactions before taking herbal medicine. Just because it is labelled as alternative you have to remember that it is a medicine that has an effect on your body.

©Sally Cronin – Just Food for Health – 1998 – 2020

I am a qualified nutritional therapist with twenty-two years experience working with clients in Ireland and the UK as well as being a health consultant on radio in Spain. Although I write a lot of fiction, I actually wrote my first two books on health, the first one, Size Matters, a weight loss programme 20 years ago, based on my own weight loss of 154lbs. My first clinic was in Ireland, the Cronin Diet Advisory Centre and my second book, Just Food for Health was written as my client’s workbook. Since then I have written a men’s health manual, and anti-aging programme, articles for magazines and posts here on Smorgasbord.

If you would like to browse my health books and fiction you can find them here: My books and reviews 2020

Your feedback is always welcome and if you do find that following any of the posts that I have shared are beneficial then it would be great to hear about it and if you have any questions you can email me on sally.cronin@moyhill.com.