Can a tea made from purple cone flowers stave off colds and illnesses?
Echinacea is a popular remedy for colds, flu, and other infections. Some people also believe that echinacea can alleviate pain, prevent cancer, improve mental health, and relieve skin problems. But the scientific community does not agree on the benefits of echinacea tea and some have expressed concerns regarding echinacea side effects.
Common Known As
- Echinacea purpurea
- Echinacea angustifolia
- Echinacea pallida
What Is Echinacea Tea?
Echinacea tea is an herbal drink most commonly made from the Echinacea purpurea plant. Other varieties, including E. angustifolia and E. pallida, may also be used as an ingredient in some teas and extracts. Usually, the purple, cone-shaped flower of the plant is dried or cut fresh to make tea, but echinacea roots and leaves may also be used.
Echinacea is a perennial plant commonly grown in North America and Europe. The species is closely related to sunflowers, daisies, and ragweed.
The taste of echinacea tea is often described as tongue-tingling. In fact, some herbal product makers regard this quality as evidence of the herb's effectiveness. Echinacea is commonly combined with mint or with other ingredients such as lemongrass to make a more pleasant-tasting tea.
If you don't like the taste of echinacea tea, many cold and flu sufferers consume echinacea in tablets or tinctures.
There is no caffeine in echinacea tea as some might expect. The herbal tea is not made like traditional tea, which is manufactured using leaves from the Camellia sinensis plant. When you drink this herbal tea, you are not likely to get the boost of energy that you're likely to get from drinking caffeinated teas.
Echinacea has a long history of being used as an herbal treatment. American Indians were known to have used the treatment for a wide range of ailments before western settlers began using it in the 1800s. Because it has a long history of use, researchers have been studying the herb for decades with mixed results.
Echinacea is widely touted as an immune booster that can help prevent cold and flu. However, there is insufficient evidence to support these claims.
In 2014, the Cochrane Database Systematic Reviews analyzed 24 double-blind trials of echinacea with a total of 4,631 participants found weak evidence to support the herb's effectiveness in preventing or treating colds and flu.
One study included in the review found echinacea may reduce the duration and severity of colds when compared to a placebo, but the review authors noted the effects were not clinically significant.
Possible Side Effects
According to the National Institutes of Health, echinacea is probably safe for most people, although some people experience side effects such as stomach pain, nausea, headache, dizziness. In rare cases, severe allergic reactions may occur, especially in those allergic to ragweed, mums, marigolds, or daisies.
People who are taking immunosuppressant medications, using tamoxifen, have allergies or asthma, are pregnant or nursing, or undergoing eyelid surgery should not use echinacea.
Echinacea may interfere with certain medications. Talk to your doctor if you are taking medication or currently managing a medical condition to make sure that echinacea is safe for you.
Dosage and Preparations
There is no recommended daily allowance of echinacea. It is sold in capsules, tinctures, and teas.
You can purchase loose leaf echinacea tea or tea bags online and in many health food stores. To prepare loose leaf echinacea tea:
- Place flowers, leaves, and roots of an echinacea plant in a teacup. Be sure that the plant parts are free of dirt.
- Bring water to a boil and then let sit for a minute to reduce the temperature just slightly.
- Pour 8 ounces of water over the plant parts.
- Let the tea steep for as long as desired. It will usually take longer than steeping traditional teas and may take up to 15 minutes.
- Strain to remove the flowers, roots, and leaves.
- Flavor to taste before drinking.
Add honey, ginger or other flavor enhancements and experiment with different flavors to find a combination that you enjoy.
What To Look For
Most studies investigating the effectiveness of echinacea generally use an extract form of the herb, not tea. Unfortunately, consumers can't verify the integrity of the herbal supplements or teas that they purchase in stores.
When selecting a brand of supplements or teas look for products that have been certified by Consumer Labs, The U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention, or NSF International.
How long does it take echinacea to work?
Echinacea should be taken at the first sign of a cold or illness. Alternative medicine practitioners recommend drinking echinacea tea several times throughout the day for about a week.
Does echinacea kill good bacteria?
No. Echinacea has immune-boosting properties, but it is not an antibiotic. So, unlike prescription antibiotics, echinacea does not kill bacteria—good or bad. It does not appear to have a negative impact on gut health, but it may cause stomach aches and nausea in some individuals.
I'm allergic to ragweed. Is echinacea safe?
Echinacea comes from coneflowers, which is closely related to sunflowers, daisies, and ragweed. If you are allergic to ragweed, mums, marigolds, or daisies, do not take echinacea as it may cause severe allergic reactions, including anaphylaxis.
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