Echinacea and Golden Seal: The Dynamic Duo
Synthetic cold remedies from the druggist’s shelf do not look quite as good as they did a few years ago. The warning labels barely fit into the space available on the product box, and it is well-known to medical researchers that some ingredients in these products, such as aspirin, can cause stomach irritation—even bleeding. Further, research reports show that ingredients like aspirin and acetominophen have caused liver damage at therapeutic dosages.
What about antibiotics? Antibiotics don’t really touch viral infections, but are often prescribed to prevent complications like secondary bacterial infections. But what about the side effects of antibiotics, which include Immune suppression, allergic reactions, and mild liver damage. And doesn’t manufacturing synthetic drugs add to environmental pollution?
Echinacea is the purple Kansas cone-flower. It is a native American herb, from the plains states and grows to a lesser extent out to the east coast. The plant group Echinacea is made up of several different kinds or species, all occurring east of the Rocky mountains, though they are increasingly cultivated in Oregon and California. Two types of echinacea, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia, have been popular in American and European medicine for over 100 years. For centuries, they were considered the best remedies available, for rattlesnake bites, infections, and colds and flu, by the native American Indians. Pieces of echinacea root have been found in archeological digs from villages that were over 200 years old. Before synthetic medicine replaced most of the medicinal herbs prescribed by practitioners of “official” medicine, echinacea was included in one of America’s two official drug books—The National Formulary. It dropped out of sight for about 30 years (but not in Europe) and is now making a strong comeback.
Herbalists usually recommend the tea, powder, liquid extract or powdered extract for any kind of infection that is not deeply seated, or a result of a more serious weakness or deficiency. The extracts are preferred because they concentrate the active ingredients, which include important fat-soluble compounds such as polybutylamides and polyacetylenes and the water-soluble constituents cichoric acid and polysaccharides, which are giant sugar molecules. These well-researched active constituents have been shown to strongly stimulate various activities of immune function such as increased interferon activity which protects our cells against viral attack, and increased killer t-cell function, which can remove invading organisms. Echinacea can also stimulate the properdin/complement system, and the production of alpha-1 and alpha-2 gamma globulins, also helping to control and prevent infections.
In the old days, echinacea used to be called a “blood purifier.” Now we know that the immune constituents of echinacea stimulate our body’s phagocytes (cell-eaters) to engulf bacteria, virus-infected cells and wastes, recycling them and clearing them from the blood. This blood-purifying activity is important, because it can help prevent infections of bacterial, viral and fungal origin. This part of the immune system is the main focus area for echinacea , and I call it the “surface immune system”, or “protective shield,” because it affects the immune fighters in the mucous membranes throughout the body, especially in the upper respiratory tract, digestive tract and the urinary tract, where we are mainly exposed to outside organisms that may start an infection. This well-documented protective ability of echinacea, affecting several different mechanisms of our immune function, is a good reason why echinacea has become the herb of choice for such ailments as candida infections. Echinacea is also considered one of the most effective for infections such as strep throat, infected wounds, urinary tract infections, bronchitis, and of course, it is often the herb of choice for colds and flu. Modern science has shown it to have strong “surface immune” activating properties. In other words, it is very good at stimulating the “phagocytes”, or immune cells that protect us from virus and bacteria infections, by engulfing and recycling them. This part of our immune system I have called the “surface immune system,” or “protective shield.”
When we feel the first symptoms of a cold or flu, it is best to take a fairly strong dose, about 3 or 4 capsules of the powder, one dropperful of the liquid or one powdered extract capsule or tablet every 3 hours. In many cases, this “protective” measure may just forestall the impending cold or flu completely. I have seen it happen many times.
Golden seal is an eastern woodlands plant that likes to grow in rich soil. At one time it was abundant in Ohio, Missouri and Iowa to the Eastern seaboard, and all the way up into Canada. Today, because of its immense popularity, the wild resources are rapidly dwindling. This is true of echinacea as well. For this reason, I strongly recommend choosing commercial products of echinacea from “organically grown” sources. Look for organically-grown golden seal products as well.
Golden seal is a member of the buttercup family and has a bright yellow horizontal root or “rhizome” which is the part used in medicine. The plant was another favorite herb with the native people of America. According to early accounts from the diary of Lewis and Clark made on their trip to Oregon, Indian doctors used the root for infections and as a wash for any kind of eye irritation or infection. This use is still common today, and the root powder simmered in water and carefully filtered is still one of the best treatments for pink-eye and other similar ailments. Use golden seal powder from one “00” capsule in about 3 ounces of purified or distilled water.
Today, herbalists still widely recommend golden seal for many kinds of infections, inflammations and irritations of the mucous membranes. The mucous membranes are the “slime-producing” coating of our entire digestive tract, upper respiratory tract and urinary tract. They act as a protective barrier against bacteria, viruses and other kinds of mechanical irritation. When we have a urinary tract, upper respiratory tract or bowel inflammation or infection, it is mainly the mucous membranes which are first affected. Golden seal works well with these infections, bringing in more immune energy and increasing the micro-circulation to the “surface” (right beneath the membranes), which can help eliminate wastes and speed up the healing process. In Chinese medicine, golden seal is considered “cooling” because it lowers inflammation and removes heat.
Golden seal is also a good bitter tonic, and can help promote strong digestion and increase the production of enzymes and hydrochloric acid. However, it is important to note that some people can actually be harmed by golden seal, if they take it for too long a time or in too great a quantity—especially if they have weak digestion. I recommend two “00” capsules morning and evening around mealtimes for up to 10 days as a moderate dose.
So to summarise, golden seal is recommended for the following:
- Sinus infections (sinusitis)
- Mild bowel irritations and inflammations
- Upper respiratory tract infections
- Colds and flu
- Hay fever
- Urinary tract infections
- Eye infections or irritations
It is best to take golden seal for limited periods (not more than 2 or 3 ten-day cycles every few months), and to add herbs such as cayenne or ginger if one’s digestion is weak or cold.
How do echincea and golden seal work together as the dynamic duo? During a cold, flu or infection, especially of the mucous membranes, echinacea can go to work to activate immune fighters, such as macrophages. These important defenders work to engulf and rid the body of virus-infected cells, bacteria, toxic wastes—helping to clear the debris of an “immune battle” from the site. The purple cone-flower can also help strengthen a protective gel that surrounds many of the body’s cells, thus keeping invading organisms from gaining a foothold. Golden seal, meanwhile, can help control the inflammatory process if it gets too carried away—if there is too much heat, redness, or swelling. The immune system can actually be inhibited in its protective job when this happens. It can also help bring more blood into the micro-circulation in the areas that are infected, such as the sinus cavities or urinary tract. It can help the body go through the infection much faster by bringing in more of the macrophages (that echinacea is activating) and helping to remove debris from the site.