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The 3 types of Echinacea: A comparison of medicinal actions

  • Ruth Weaver
    Ruth Weaver

    The Apothecary Forager, Ruthie Weaver is a Medical Herbalist living, teaching and practising in the beautiful county of Cornwall, her place of birth and upbringing. Ruth studied at the Scottish School of Herbal Medicine, Glasgow and The University of Lincoln where she completed her Herbal Medicine BSc. (Hons). Since then (2012) Ruth’s Practice in West Cornwall continues to grow, working with clients with acute and chronic illness and of mind, body and spirit.

    Ruths work for Herbal Reality includes writing new monographs as well as working on an ongoing project to enrich current monographs throughout the site. The monographs are enriched to include further detail on in herbal energetics, pharmacological actions, new research as well as essential information on the sustainability of plants. In the work of writing through monographs and articles, Ruth works to a balanced view of traditional, scientific, energetic and practical insights.

    The roots of Ruth’s practice are in traditional Western herbal medicine, maintaining both a deeply holistic, intuitive and energetic approach to treatment. Ruth has sought diversity in her inspirations having worked with and learnt from many leading herbalists from around the UK. Ruth also spent a number of years working with a collective of herbalist first aiders at events around the UK providing orthodox and herbal first aid.

    Sharing the herbal wisdom is where Ruth’s passion lies, she believes everyone should be empowered with the knowledge and skills to treat simple conditions at home with the powerful medicines growing so abundantly around us. Ruth also offers walks, talks, workshops and courses both in Cornwall and beyond

  • 12:52 reading time (ish)
  • Immunity Western Herbal Medicine

Written by Ruth Weaver

Echinacea is one of the most popular plants sold over the counter, as it supports the immune system for all sorts of ailments. However there are 3 different species commonly used, all with different properties. This article explains the difference between them and when it is best to use them.


Echinacea is one of the most widely used and well researched Herbal Medicines today. Most popular for its use in treatment of respiratory infections, such as the common cold, influenza, laryngitis and tonsillitis. It also has a reputation as an immune stimulant, often being used to treat viral symptoms and acute infections by enhancing the immune function (1, 2).

There are in fact several species of Echinacea, for most of which there has been little to no chemical or pharmacological research, meaning there is very little known about their medicinal potential scientifically. There are three main species of Echinacea used in Herbal Medicine today. Often referenced together in modern herbal literature as ‘Echinacea spp’.

Echinacea is often used by Herbalists in allergic and autoimmune conditions and in management of infections (4, 5). The Echinaceas are sometimes described, maybe more accurately as immune ‘modulators’ rather than ‘stimulators’. An example of what is often seen in herbal medicine – a moderating effect created by a synergy of the active chemistry rather than a singular mechanism created by one isolated compound.

These most well known members of the Daisy (Asteraceae) family are all commonly named under ‘purple coneflower’. These include; Echinacea purpurea (broad leaved or common purple coneflower), E. angustifolia (narrow leaved purple coneflower) and E. pallida (pale purple coneflower).

The most easily cultivated of the three is E. purpurea making it the most widely used today, it is also popular because all parts of the plant can be used (leaf, flower, seed and root). Most preparations of the Echinaceas are made from the roots of the plant.

The Echinaceas are often referenced together with their actions and applications listed in summary under the heading of ‘Echinacea spp’, which would suggest that they can all be used interchangeably. However, this seems possibly to overlook the variations among them that could, under comparison, suggest otherwise.

There are very few reviews available that compare the actions of the Echinacea spp, this article hopes to assess the available literature and summarise the known information, in hope to either define how each of these plants could be best applied or confirm the assumption that they are medicinally interchangeable. First of all, let’s take a look at the basic photochemistry to investigate any possible variations in their chemical composition.

Ruth Weaver

The Apothecary Forager, Ruthie Weaver is a Medical Herbalist living, teaching and practising in the beautiful county of Cornwall, her place of birth and upbringing. Ruth studied at the Scottish... Read more

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