Echinacea has a long history of use in traditional medicine as a remedy for a variety of ailments, including snakebite. Turns out, the herb known as snakeroot shares a common enzyme with spiders and snakes.
Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea), also known as Purple Coneflower, is a perennial wildflower in the daisy family that’s native to Canada and the Great Plains region of the United States. The “cone” is a reference to the disc-like shape of the flower head, which is constructed of spiny awns surrounded by drooping pinkish-purple petals.
Native Americans made great use of this plant to address everything from toothache and snakebite to gonorrhea and smallpox. The seeds were chewed to numb the gums like Novocain and the roots chewed to quell a sore throat. An infusion made from the roots and leaves was taken to ease joint pain associated with arthritis. The macerated roots were used as a local anesthetic and to make cough medicine, as well as counter the effects of burns, spider bites and snake bites. The latter application gave rise to another common name for this herb -- snakeroot. The herb became so popular with early European settlers that it was one of the first patent medicines of the 1800s marketed by Dr. H. C. F. Meyer. Some historians speculate that this is where the terms “snake oil” and “snake oil salesman” may have originated.
The anesthetic effect of echinacea is due to compounds like caffeyol and cichoricacid that reduce inflammation by inhibiting hyaluronidase, and enzyme found in the venom of some spiders and snakes. It’s also secreted by bacteria to break down hyaluronic acid (dubbed the “glue” molecule) and penetrate the membranes of healthy cells to self-replicate and spread throughout the body.
The well-known immune-boosting properties of echinacea are attributed to a polysaccharide called arabinogalactan, which stimulates macrophages to surround and destroy invading pathogens. Research shows that echinacea may increase this activity, technically known as phagocytosis, by as much as 40%. Arabinogalactanalso promotes wound healing and resistance to infections by stimulating production of tumor necrosis factor, interleukin-1 and interleukin-6.
How to Use Echinacea
To prepare a tea, steep 1 teaspoon dried herb in 1 cup boiling water. To use the extract, take 30 drops in juice, tea or water, 3 times per day. Powdered echinacea is usually encapsulated as a dietary supplement. Use the extract or tincture topically for insect bites and ear infections.
Precautions: People with a known allergy to plants in the ragweed family may experience a similar allergic reaction with echinacea. Do not use this herb while taking immunosuppression or anti-rejection drugs. You should not use this herb if you have a systemic autoimmune disorder, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, tuberculosis and related condtiions.