Often I talk to patients who are trying to build up their immunity by using the herb Echinacea. Sometimes they take it long term. Others have heard that you should only take it for three weeks and thus they take one week breaks before they start up again. When I ask why they are doing this they say it is because Echinacea enhances immunity and since we all want a stronger immunity we should all be taking it. Often they have gotten this information from a book or a magazine written by researcher or doctor who is reporting on how they understand the herb was used in the past.
There is a modern logic at work here that says Echinacea was used to treat viral colds, since herbs help the body, Echinacea must help the body fight the cold, since it is the immune system that fights the cold, therefore Echinacea enhances the immune system. This premise is the basis of many books not carried by the book companies that sell to certified herbalists.
Echinacea like all medicinal herbs has a function that is understood through the dynamics of how it affects the body. If we simplify all medical conditions into two categories, there are excess conditions and deficiency conditions. The common cold is defined as an excess condition, there are acute forceful symptoms, in the way of chills and fever, excess nasal discharge and forceful coughing. Deficiency conditions tend to be conditions of weakness and could lead to susceptibility to a cold. Echinacea is classified as dispersing of energy and cooling in its nature. Therefore it could be said to Stimulate the immune system to clear a cold. This would be particularly appropriate in a cold marked by fever, hot sore throat and yellow nasal mucous ( all excess heat signs), because Echinacea disperses excess heat. Echinacea would not be appropriate for a cold marked by chills, watery nasal discharge, and dry throat (all cold signs). Since Echinacea disperses energy from the body, it can not be seen as enhancing the strength of the body if used long term. Used long term, Echinacea would in fact decrease your strength to fight a cold and create a dependancy on the herbs to actually fight the infection. An immune enhancing herb would be a herb that tonifies rather than disperses. It is the difference between food (tonifying) and the spices (dispersing) that flavor it.
The common cold could be described as a robber who breaks into your house. The proper thing to do is use herbs (like Echinacea) that open the doors and windows and like a loud alarm, scare the robber away. Continuing to use those herbs after the robber has left, is like forgetting to close the doors and windows.
— David Bock
This article was from David's LakeCountryOnline.com column, "The Practical Herbalist"
David Bock, C. Ac., Dipl. OM, FABORM
Wisconsin Certified Acupuncturist
National Board Certification in Oriental Medicine
Fellow American Board Of Oriental Reproductive Medicine
Bock Acupuncture & Herbal Medicine
888 Thackeray Trail #206
Oconomowoc, Wisconsin 53066