Author: Lily Mazzarella
Much of what Echinacea was traditionally used for (by both First Nations and settler/colonizer folks, who learned about it from the people already here) would land you in a hospital today. Snake bites, septicemia, burns, "jet black tongue", & "foul discharges with emaciation and great debility" (yikes!) as the Eclectics so eloquently put it. So how on earth did we get to thinking that echinacea is an OTC remedy for colds? Or that it prevents colds? And that it either "works" or "doesn't".
There's a lot to be said on this subject, but I think back to what one of my main teachers, the great phytotherapist Simon Mills, said about herbs: We have to be careful what we ask of them. When we ask a single herb to make a cold not happen or go away, we are irrevocably limiting the conversation, and participating (often unawares) in the dominant allopathic narrative around what constitutes illness, medicine and wellness.
It's not fair to Echinacea to ask it to avert a cold when we're overdoing it, under sleeping, stressing out and eating too much sugar. You CAN in fact take enough Echinacea to jack up a macrophage frenzy and amazingly that ominous sore throat is gone poof. And sometimes that's appropriate/convenient/helpful/what we need to do. But the care of the body is a larger and more beautiful theme than panicked sickness avoidance. When we dip out of stress and allow for self-healing physiology to come on line, we when do our daily immune rituals to protect points of entry so the immune system doesn't even HAVE to get activated, that’s where the magic really happens.
Echinacea is also an astonishingly efficient lymphatic herb. I call it "scrubbing bubbles" for the lymph system—it helps to clarify a system that is prone to congestion, thickening and back-up. Echinacea participates in both short and long-term immune response and offers a refresher course to pooped out scavenger cells that act as first-line defense. It allows of free-flow of resolution-oriented immune cells into the tissues that need them most.
So the question isn't whether it's working or not, it's HOW Echinacea is working, what movement in the body we are asking it to support. Next time you take your Got Sick tincture and feel that Echinacea tingle, thank it for working any which way it deems fit.
Good job, Echinacea 😊