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There are many herbal and natural remedies on the market, but few are as well known as the herb Echinacea. For many years, Echinacea has been one of the world's most popular herbal remedies, and it is being studied for the ability to fight colds, flu and other common infections.
The herb we know as Echinacea, also called the purple coneflower, actually consists of nine distinct species, but only three varieties are used in herbal medicine. Those three varieties are:
* Echinacea engustifolia
* Echinacea pallida
* Echinacea purpurea
Various parts of the plants, including the flowers, leaves, stems and roots, are used in hundreds of different commercial products and herbal medicines. Depending on the preparation and the variety used, this popular herb may be able to stimulate the immune system and fight bacteria, viruses and other common harmful microbes.
Echinacea appears to be both safe and powerful, and it is thought to stimulate various immune system cells that are key to the fight against infection. In addition, the herb is also thought to boost the ability of the cells to produce interferon, a substance vital to the fighting of viruses.
In particular, Echinacea is thought to help to reduce our susceptibility to colds and flu. This herb is most effective when it is taken at the first sign of a cold or flu. For those who are already afflicted by colds or the flu, Echinacea is thought to have the power to shorten their duration and severity.
Echinacea is also being studied for its possible role in fighting such recurrent respiratory ailments as bronchitis, strep throat and sinusitis. It is thought that the immune boosting properties of Echinacea are responsible for this effectiveness in fighting chronic infections. Again, Echinacea works best when taken at the first sign of illness.
Echinacea may also aid in speeding the healing of wounds to the skin, and in reducing inflammation. Conditions treated by Echinacea include burns, sores, cuts and scrapes, as well as boils, abscesses, canker sores and eczema. Echinacea preparations can be applied directly to the wound or taken orally to promote a healthy immune system response.
In addition Echinacea has even shown promise at treating chronic fatigue syndrome, one of medicine's most puzzling conditions. While results have varied, many CFS sufferers have found relief by using this popular herb.
Echinacea comes in a wide variety of forms, and many different preparations, including tablets, capsules, soft gels, liquids and tinctures. Echinacea can also be bought as a dried herb and brewed into a tea. There are a variety of Echinacea preparations consisting of creams that can be rubbed onto sunburns and other skin irritations to provide relief.
When buying Echinacea, either at your health food store or over the internet, it is important to read the label carefully. Some preparations will contain mixed ingredients from several different species, and from many parts of the plant. It is important to choose an Echinacea preparation which contains the species and the plant part best suited to treat your ailment.