Echinacea – should I take it all through autumn & winter?

I was at a farmer’s market yesterday, chatting to a woman who said that she starts taking echinacea tablets now (beginning of September) and then everyday until the end of winter – to prevent her from getting coughs and colds, and the majority of the time this works for her.

Whilst echinacea is a brilliant herb to take to prevent the likelihood of catching a cold, it isn’t a good idea to take it for long periods at a time. The general rule of thumb is to take it for two weeks on, then two weeks off – giving your body a break so that it can build up your immunity itself, without relying solely on the actions of the echinacea. Herbs are really great at supporting your body and to keep it at optimum health levels, but that is the key here – the herbs work to support your body, not do it for the body. The last thing we want is for your body to rely on the herbs to keep the immune system running so that when you stop taking the herbs it will forget how to fend for itself. Yes, there are herbs that can be taken long term and this is very beneficial for the body, but even those herbs are meant to only be taken until your body is in complete balance and therefore able to continue maintaining that balanced state.

It is very tempting at the beginning of September or autumn to reach straight for the immune system boosting herbs, as you think about how to improve your health so you are less likely to catch a cold, but you should be doing other things to support your body too, like getting enough rest, reducing stress in your life, drinking plenty of water and eating your fruit and veggies (I can hear the groaning from here! Haha!). Echinacea is a great herb that has been classically certified as a traditional herbal remedy by the EU’s committee on Herbal Medicines for short term use for relieving the symptoms of coughs, common colds and the ’flu and various studies have shown that it can help with both preventing a cold and reducing the symptoms of a cold, as well as decreasing the frequency and length of the common cold.

So how do you take it and how often?

Echinacea can be taken as tablets, herbal tincture or as a herbal infusion (herbal tea – also counts towards your water intake!). Tablets are the most convenient method as some are available as a one tablet a day dose. I sometimes take chewable tablets if I feel a sore throat starting and I’m not at home to make a cup of herbal tea, but I prefer to take a few drops of tincture or a cup of tea. You can take echinacea tincture or echinacea herbal tea 2-3 times a day during the onset of a cold, then reduce that to once per day after the first few days and for up to two weeks. Then stop for at least a couple of weeks, if you feel the symptoms returning then you can repeat the process.

Echinacea isn’t recommended for children under the age of 12yrs old as it may cause a rash, it is also best to check with your doctor first if you are taking medication for diabetes or immune system disorders. An alternative herb to give children under 12yrs old to help relieve cold symptoms is elderberry, this is available as a syrup usually, but also as chewable tablets/gummies. When my children were little and they got a cold, I would give them a teaspoon of homemade elderberry syrup (recipe in next blog post!) and they would call it ’Mummy’s special medicine’ 😄

I don’t currently have any tea blends containing echinacea, but my immune system boosting tea blend ’I Got Chills’, is my go to tea when I’m feeling as though I have a cold coming, as it is full of vitamin C rich herbs that have been used traditionally for relieving the symptoms of a cold and also reducing its length too. It’s a warming and soothing blend that can be drunk up to three times a day. I find the steam coming off the cup/mug helps to open up my sinuses too when my nose is feeling blocked up. The ginger root and star anise help to warm the body up and through the circulation system, sends the cold virus to your lymph nodes to be eliminated from your body. The elderberries, orange peel and rosehips help to reduce inflammation in both the nasal passages and throat so they feel less sore and painful. You can find I Got Chills tea blend as both a tin and tea taster here in my Tea Shop. You will also find the echinacea chewable tablets and an echinacea hot drink (like a hot cordial) that also contains elderberries in my shop too.

Whether you decide to take echinacea, elderberry, or another herb to boost your immune system, the best way to keep your body healthy enough so that you don’t get a cold in the first place is to reduce stress in your life so that your body doesn’t feel overtired, overwhelmed or anxious. It is these conditions that are usually to blame for lowering your resistance to colds in the first place. If you are already feeling burnt out, then reach for my tea blends that help to calm your body – especially your nervous system. These are great to take in the evening so you can relax properly and get a good night’s sleep, which allows your nervous system to reset and rest properly too. This in turn will give you more energy and focus to achieve your goals and prevent overwhelm and stress from affecting you everyday. The blends I most recommend are Serenitea, Amber’s Rose Tea, Tired & Wired and if you have trouble getting a good nights sleep, Nightea Night.

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Echinacea purpurea flowers