Echinacea, also known as coneflower, is a wild flower that grows naturally in meadows and moist low-lands throughout the mid-west. While Echinacea is most commonly known for it medicinal effects, it is also a common garden plant with beautiful purple flowers. 
Health Benefits of Echinacea 
There are three varieties of Echinacea: Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea angustifolia. All three varieties are commonly used to support a healthy immune system. Echinacea is most commonly used for immune system protection and to help shorten the duration of the common cold.  
Echinacea is thought to serve as a stimulant to the body's immune system by activating white blood cells, whereby making it more difficult for foreign bodies to infect cells. Some evidence from other clinical studies appears to indicate that Echinacea may have antiviral and antifungal effects, possibly adding to its infection fighting ability. These studies are not conclusive. 
Usage Guidelines 
When taking Echinacea for the common cold, you should start taking it as soon as you notice symptoms. It is commonly recommended to take Echinacea for three weeks at a time, and to rotate with other immune boosting herbs. Because the strength of Echinacea can vary according to manufacturing practices, it is recommended that you follow manufacturing guidelines on dosage amounts. 
How to Choose an Echinacea Product 
Look for an Echinacea product that contains standardized extract. This will insure that you are getting high levels of the active ingredients typically found in echinacea. Also alcohol free extract is another recommended form of echinacea.  
Some higher quality supplements may even contain multiple types of echinacea ingredients. This is useful in case a person's body responds more positively to certain kinds of ingredients.  
Because of Echinacea's effects on the immune system, you should not take this drug if you have multiple sclerosis, AIDS, tuberculosis, leukemia, and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. 
Side Effects 
Echinacea usually does not cause side effects when taken orally. In rare cases, some people experience allergic reactions, including rashes, increased asthma, and anaphylaxis. In clinical trials, gastrointestinal side effects were most common. 
People are more likely to experience allergic reactions to echinacea if they are allergic to ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies. Also, people with asthma or atopy may be more likely to have an allergic reaction when taking echinacea.

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