Each year more and more people rely on Echinacea to strengthen the immune system and to reduce the misery when colds, flu and upper respiratory tract infections strike. There are many Echinacea products on the market today, but bear in mind that they are not all the same. Many factors influence the quality of the herbal remedy you use – so before making your decision on which Echinacea product to buy, consider the following facts:
Using the best species
There are many varieties of Echinacea, but when choosing your herbal remedy look out for products made from Echinacea purpurea which research has shown to be the most reliable.
Use the whole plant
A plant contains hundreds, indeed at times, thousands, of different constituents and different parts of the plant hold these in different concentrations. All constituents, including those which we do not yet know, can be responsible for the overall effectiveness of a plant medicine. There is no substance or part which it makes sense to leave out in the making of a herbal remedy. Echinacea contains a group of chemical substances (active substances) known as alkylamides which have been shown to possess specific effects on the immune system. An Echinacea product which does not contain these alkylamides will not work. In the case of Echinacea purpurea, both the plant parts above the ground as well as the root (known as the radix) are used in traditional Echinacea purpurea remedies.
Fresh plants rather than dried
It is vital that plants used in the making of herbal remedies should be as fresh as possible. The fresher and purer the product is at the beginning, then the better and richer in content the finished product will be. Many companies process huge bales of dried herbs which are often transported from great distances and are then stored in warehouses prior to being used, which can result in the natural structure of the plant being impaired and constituents of the plant being lost or changed. Following research, extracts made from fresh Echinacea have been shown to contain almost 3 times more active substances than equivalent amounts of those made from dried plants. It, therefore, makes sense to check that the Echinacea product you are about to purchase has been made using fresh rather than dried herbs.
Many Echinacea products are now available, but do look out for one which has been licensed. In the UK, you can tell if it is as it will have either a PL or THR number on the side of the packaging.
To obtain a registration, the manufacturer has to show that the product in question has been made in accordance with certain quality standards. For unregistered echinacea products, these standards are voluntary and not many food supplement manufacturers achieve them. By buying a licensed product you will be safe in the knowledge that you are taking the correct product in the correct amounts for your particular condition. You will also be supplied with information on how to use the product safely.
Plant remedies contain a mixture of a great deal of substances. To complicate things further, this mixture of substances is in no way constant in any given plant. Experience has shown that the quality of the plant, the soil, the weather and the time of harvesting all influence the contents. An individual plant can have a different spectrum of constituents than the plant next to it, which is growing in the same field, under the same conditions. The manufacturing process used to convert the herbs into the finished product can also affect the quality.
The manufacture of all medicines is subject to international regulations, known as Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP). This ensures that medicines are manufactured to a specific and pre-determined level of quality and safety and that the consumer receives a consistently therapeutic product from one purchase to the next.
Holistic Standardisation guarantees a largely constant ratio of all constituents within every batch of herbs. From fresh plants to the end product, standardisation means quality standardisation at every step of the production process to ensure that all the key components in the plant are extracted into the final herbal remedy and to maintain consistency between batches.
Armed with this information you can be sure of buying the best quality Echinacea product available to you.
Alison Cullen is a Nutritional Therapist with a special interest in Phytotherapy.