Wellness Encyclopedia: Echinacea and How to Use It

This time of year is kind of like spring break for viruses – cooler temperatures paired with lots of air travel thanks to vacations and school breaks. Thankfully, there are plenty of herbs like echinacea to keep colds at arm’s length.

I recently flew cross-country. You’re probably thinking, “so?” And you’re right — that fact is not remarkable. Like, at all. Unless you’re me of course, the person who gets sick at the mere thought of travel, especially air travel. One look at a plane, and I seem to come down with a monster of a cold as if on cue. Except this time. What made this particular flight to California (and the one home, for that matter) so unique, is that I’m fine. No sniffles or sneezing. While it could really be any number of factors, I’m chalking this incredible feat up to my steady intake of echinacea before, during, and after my trip. If you always seem to get sick while traveling, or between seasons (i.e. right about now as the weather transitions), this medicinal herb, which we’re discussing below, could bring relief.

But first, have you ever wondered why you seem more susceptible to getting sick when you fly? Along with all that recycled air, which means plenty of recycled germs from anywhere between 10 and 500 passengers, we dehydrate easily during flights because of the low humidity on planes. When dehydration happens, viruses and germs can pass through the lining of our airways more easily, compromising immune function. Yet another reason to guzzle H2O while you’re up in the air. On top of that, the viruses that cause cold and flu proliferate better in cooler temperatures – not too hot, not too cold – which is why we also tend to get sick at the onset of winter and spring. So yeah… this time of year is kind of like spring break for viruses – cooler temperatures paired with lots of air travel thanks to vacations and school breaks. Thankfully, there are plenty of herbs like echinacea to keep colds at arm’s length.

What is echinacea?

So what is echinacea? You may have spotted this plant, which is in the daisy family,without even realizing its potential power. Native to central and eastern North America, echinacea is an herb more often appreciated for its bright fuchsia bloom than its medicinal benefits – which are many. With a big conical centre and bright purplish-pink petals, echinacea is just as at home among the wildflowers as it is in your medicine cabinet. In fact, the plant has (at least) a 400-year history of usage among the Great Plains tribes and experienced some popularity in Western medicine before the wider use of antibiotics.

What are the benefits?

Thanks to high levels of flavonoids, inulin, vitamin C and polysaccharides, echinacea could possess potential anti-inflammatory benefits to support the entire body. Because inflammation could be at the root of some pretty major diseases and illnesses, anything that may play a role in reducing inflammation could be of benefit – like echinacea. The same compounds could have immune function supporting effects, earning echinacea its reputation for supporting wellbeing before and after a cold.

How to use echinacea:

Echinacea comes in a huge variety of forms – from tinctures to teas to capsules, it’s up to you to decide what’s best for you, and of course, please speak to your doctor before beginning any new supplement or dietary program. One of the easiest ways of reaping the rewards of echinacea is by adding drops of a tincture to your daily water intake. If you don’t mind a slightly bitter flavor, this could be a great way to stay hydrated while warding off cold and flu. In fact, taking echinacea could cut your chances of coming down with a cold by over 50% – so stock up and get sipping if someone close to you or living with you gets sick, and of course,if you’re traveling cross-country by germ-infested plane.

 

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