The History of Echinacea


Jun 05

In the late 1800’s there was a man named Joseph Meyer from Pawnee City, Nebraska. He was a traveling salesman who went from town to town peddling wares from his wagon. He learned from the Plains Indians the virtues of a “Kansas root.” The Indians had been using it for hundreds of years for wounds, colds, and snake bites. They knew that it helped the body to heal itself and that it protected the body from poisons and toxins.

Joseph Meyer made an alcohol tincture of this root and sold it as a cure for everything. He traveled west selling his tonic and became quite famous as both a healer and a showman: on stage, he goaded live rattle snakes into biting him and then drank his tonic. He never fell ill to the snake bites and he sold a lot of tonic.

If you have ever heard the term “snake oil peddler,” this is where it came from; Echinacea was the first “quack” medicine labeled a “snake oil.”  Meyer claimed his tonic would cure everything from cancer to mad dog bites to the plague.

Where the term “snake oil” came from.

In the early 1800’s there was a huge influx of Chinese immigrants. They became a great, cheap labor force in this country while suffering from racial prejudice within all the fields they worked from mining to building railroads.

With them they brought their traditional Chinese medicines, and one happened to be a snake oil that had soothing properties for arthritis and bursitis. Upon further examination today (you can read about it here) we now know that the Chinese snake oil was rich in omega-3s. Their snake oil was truly effective medicine. But because there was no regulation and no shortage of unscrupulous business people, suddenly the market was flooded with snake oils that ranged from great to worthless, and thus the term “snake oil” became associated with quack medicine.

And as pointed out above, the first product to be labeled a “snake oil” that wasn’t a snake oil, was that echinacea tincture.

By the end of the 19th century, Meyer wanted to know what this root actually was, so he shipped a case of his tonic to Professor King, one of the nation’s leading physicians and herbalists, and author of King’s American Dispensatory.

Professor King could only laugh at the request, for how could you identify an herb from a tonic? He wrote Meyer telling him he would have to send the whole plant to King’s laboratory to discover what it was. Meyer sent off the plant to King who shelved it.

Meanwhile, Professor King’s wife was dying of cancer, and nothing he had given her would help. He had the best medicines of the day, but nothing helped his wife who was slipping away fast.

Just a few months later, Professor King’s wife had a full recovery, and King was overjoyed and came to her saying that he was glad that his medicines had finally worked. She told him that she hadn’t been following his medical advice, and to his astonishment, that she was taking the “snake oil” he had shelved.

Between 1919 and 1920, echinacea tincture was the most widely sold medical preparation in America and would have remained so, except that the AMA, a very powerful political organization, drove over 20,000 practicing herbalists out of business.

Echinacea can raise your T-cell count better than any drug available, and though most herbalists like to quantify data and write books, Dr Schulze, a master herbalist with years of clinical experience, will tell you that it will destroy tumors and help your body to heal any cancer, if you get a good, strong dose three to four times daily. But again, this has not been put to the test and don’t expect it to.

Most tinctures on the market recommend 15 to 30 drops three to four times daily. But herbal companies are in a competitive business, and price wars force them to create some pretty weak preparations.

You can always make your own: get a fresh echinacea root before it flowers (thus the energy is in the root—see below), clean it, chop it up, and add 80 proof alcohol (vodka, brandy, etc.) so that the herb is covered (one to two inches above the herb). Shake daily for two weeks and then filter out the root. For even a more powerful formula, shake it daily for as long as you can or store it away for a year.

If you are growing echinacea, keep in mind that the entire plant can be used, but it is the root stock specifically that contains most of its power. Chinese wisdom tells us that the root is most powerful before the flower appears. At this time, the energy of the plant is in the root. When the flower appears, the energy is now in the flower. Thus, if you are going to use the root, you must dig it up before the flower appears. A good tincture will use not only the root, but the seeds and leaves and stems of a mature plant too.

Keep in mind that tinctures destroy some of the properties of herbs, so teas and diffusions are also recommended, as well as capsules of freeze dried echinacea. And nobody ever said you can’t just chew on the plant.

If you want to order bulk herbs (organically grown), you can contact Pacific Botanicals, but remember, they sell only in bulk at quantities of a pound or more. You might find this expensive, but you’ll get much more for your money.

My favorite tincture is made by HerbPharm, Super Echinacea. This product is available through Swanson’s Health, our best affiliate program because it just has the best prices and best products.HerbPharm Echinacea

A few last notes on echinacea: everybody we talked to praised this herb, recommending it for any immune system dysfunction and cancer, however, they all agreed that the body seems to get used to it when used for an extended period of time, so they recommend using it for two weeks, then a break for two weeks, and then going back on it for two weeks. In other words, echinacea is used to “kick-start” your immune system. You don’t keep turning the key to your car after it has started, and you do not continue to take echinacea every day without a break. Any formula that contains echinacea and is supposed to be used daily has been created by an idiot and you should steer clear of it, unless it’s a salve.

And one more warning: never mix echinacea with goldenseal. Two master herbalists have warned us about this mixture. You can mix it with astragalus, but never goldenseal. There are a bunch of herbal formulas with both echinacea and goldenseal. Master herbalists warn us to stay away from them. They tell us this combination just drives the inflammation deeper. It is amazing how many products on the market contain these two together.


2003 Study on Echinacea — Judged Ineffective

When modern, orthodox medicine conducts a study repudiating herbs, vitamins, nutrition, and anything else that is not drug related, the information is quickly and widely disseminated. NBC got a hold of this study and had a field day. Throughout the Internet news sources quickly picked up on it. Everyone wants you to know that 300 years of research into echinacea is a hokum.

As journalists who actually reads studies, we here know there have been many positive studies on echinacea; from Germany alone there have been at least 50 studies showing echinacea’s effectiveness.

I’d heard about this study from the surgeon who fixed my hernia (and turned my belly button from an “innie” to an “outie”). So I went looking for it and found that it had been published in JAMA.

The study was conducted by physicians with no knowledge of the use of echinacea, no knowledge of herbalism, and the didn’t even deign to put an herbalist on their team of investigators.

Their conclusion: “Echinacea purpurea, as dosed in this study was not effective in treating URI symptoms in patients 2 to 11 years old, and its use was associated with an increased risk of rash.” [JAMA, Dec 2003; 290: 2824 – 2830]

After talking with a handful of herbalists, it was obvious the study was meant to fail. Here are the problems with it:

  • The echinacea used was a pill form, consisting of mostly the dried herb.
  • Blood tests were never taken, before, during, or after the study to track the CD4 counts (T-cells).
  • The capsules were taken daily for a period of months with no breaks, which is not consistent with the historical use of the product.
  • And again, no herbalist was consulted to design the methodology used in the study.

It was either designed to fail, or it was designed by idiots. I’m going with the former since our universities aren’t designed to graduate idiots (at least not yet). And because it made a huge splash in our media, the most salient aspect to this study was its unsubtle conflicts of interest.

As one very famous rich man once said:

“Competition is a sin.” John D Rockefeller

  • Paul lachner says:

    My father who is 78 has slow accuring prostate cancer, he’s a 2 right now, well he had blood in his stool a year after it was first detected. They found a mass in his intestines that was cancer, surgery was set up and in that process they called a code blue and he flat lined but they brought hm back so surgery was cancelled and they put a Pacemaker in and surgery was done with no complications and the mass was recently removed the doctor said that the fluid from the mass leaked out and there is a good chance it soaked into the walls and could spread.they want him to start radiation now. My dad went in for more testing and they want to do prostate surgery now. I love my father and dont want him to die or see him in so much pain, what is your opinion on the radiation and the next surgery. I’m against both. Please help me help him. Thank you,

  • >