Echinacea, which is also referred to as American coneflower, is technically an herb that belongs to Asteraceae, or the daisy family. Cultures and scientists alike have touted it for its many health benefits ranging from battling inflammation to improving collagen production—I mean, what more could you ask for?
But before you dive headfirst into a world of soothing muscle pain, a few words of caution: There are side effects to using or consuming echinacea, and though they differ person to person, these are some of the most notable ones according to Charles Passler, DC, a nutritionist and life coach.
If you have a sensitivity or allergy to pollen, echinacea will likely be a no-go. People with this allergy often have a heightened sensitivity to the herb resulting in symptoms like rashes, itchiness, swelling, and hives when they come into contact with it.
Dr. Passler notes that people with asthma and autoimmune disorders should avoid echinacea altogether. Findings on whether or not echinacea can worsen these conditions are so far inconclusive. Some studies have found that it's, in fact, harmful and exacerbates these conditions, while others find this claim to be unfounded. Since the jury is still out, better to be safe than sorry.
One final warning about echinacea is that the herb can thin your blood, Dr. Passler says. "Some preliminary research indicates taking too much of this herb or taking it for too long can actually depress white blood cell activity and negatively affect the immune system," he says. So, as is with the case with adding any new supplement to your health plan, consulting your doctor first is always the best course of action. In the meantime, keep reading to see why you'd want to add the super herb to your supplement rotation.
5 echinacea benefits you need to know about
1. It's a potent immune booster
Echinacea has been known for its health-boosting properties for centuries. And recently the ancient wisdom has been supported by scientific research. "Research has shown that it can cut a cold's duration by as much as a day and a half. Other studies showed that it could reduce your chances of getting a cold in the first place, by 58 percent," says Dr. Passler.
2. It's a natural form of pain relief
Science has also found that consuming echinacea (whether through tea or extracts) sets off an anti-inflammatory process, which reduces oral pain, sore throats, and even UTIs. Another study found that the herb can set off a cell secretion called cytokine, which in turn is responsible for reducing inflammation and is helpful in reducing muscle soreness.
3. It can help with digestion
If you're feeling backed up, for lack of a better phrase, Dr. Passler says that echinacea "when consumed as a tea can be helpful in treating mild to moderate bouts of constipation."
4. It can help heal wounds
"When it comes to skin infections and wound healing, using a topical cream is definitely the way to go" Dr. Passler says, adding, "it can be helpful in preventing the recurrence of these infections, as well as accelerating wound healing." Basically echinacea is nature's answer to Neosporin.
5. It's got powerful skin-boosting properties
Because of all of echinacea's aforementioned superpowers, it has also made its way into skin care. "Echinacea is known to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antiseptic properties, making it great for skin care," says skin-care guru Indie Lee. Beyond these properties, Lee also says it's an underrated way to increase the appearance of collagen in your skin.
How to reap echinacea benefits on the reg
1. Drink it in a tea
If you're jumping on the echinacea train for its anti-inflammatory or pain reducing properties, your best bet is to take it as a tea. Dr. Passler says that the current research indicates that this is the best and most efficient way to get those properties. He also says that "as a natural laxative, tea is definitely the form to go with according to the research and my own experience with patients."
2. Take it as a supplement
If you're coming down with or starting to feel the initial tickles of a cold "a supplement is usually the best form because it will give you a higher dose of the active ingredients than a tea will" Dr. Passler says.
3. Use it in skincare products
4. Try it as a topical cream
"When it comes to skin infections and wound healing, using a topical cream is definitely the way to go" Dr. Passler says. Stock up on an echinacea cream or two and keep handy for when you're healing cuts and scrapes. And should you be sore and recovering from an especially difficult workout, lather some echinacea cream on your muscles.
Looking for an energy booster? Swap out your caffeine for one of these energy-boosting herbs or try this celeb-approved health snack.
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