Today’s write-up is again courtesy of Taisha, who scribes:
Echinacea purpurea is a herbaceous perennial member of the Asteraceae. Its composite inflorescence contains striking purple ray florets and conically-arranged darker disk florets. This is native to parts of eastern and central North America. Due to its popularity in herbal medicine, it is grown commercially. It is also highly ornamental and found in many a garden, and can be considered a garden escape in parts of Europe.
A long history of medicinal use has been documented. First Nations uses include treatment for infection and anti-toxin for snake bites. According to Daniel Moerman’s book, Native American Ethnobotany, the Choctaw used the root for a cough medicine and gastrointestinal aid, while the Lenape (aka Delaware) combined echinacea root with staghorn sumac root for venereal diseases.
Presently, this species and its relatives have high commercial value (estimates range between 100 and 300 million USD for annual US sales in the 2008-2010 calendar years, with most in the lower end of the range). This is because of the purported ability for echinacea products (extracted from Echinacea purpurea and other related species) to prevent the common cold and/or treat upper respiratory tract infections. When researching this assertion, I will say there were contradicting claims in the literature as to whether using echinacea is effective or not for treating such ailments. Data supporting the use of echinacea products as a herbal medicine are unclear, in large part because there is variation and little standardization in commercially available products. This variation is due to several factors, including (but not limited to) the part of the plant used for extracts and the species being used along with its relative concentration of the active compounds. In a critical review on the medicinal properties of echinacea by B. Barrett, the author noted the use of Echinacea spp. to treat acute upper respiratory tract infections is moderately supported, while the use to prevent the common cold is less supported as the quality of evidence is limited. However, more quality research on Echinacea purpurea and its relatives remains necessary (see: Barret, B. 2003. Medicinal Properties of Echinacea: A critical review. Phytomedicine. 10:66-86).
For more, also see Dr. Alain Boucher’s Ph.D thesis from UBC in 2008, Recommendations for selection efforts to improve the therapeutic quality of Echinacea angustifolia crops in British Columbia.