Human Flower Project

Orrington, MAINE USA

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Princeton, MAINE USA

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Scientists Sneeze at Echinacea

A new study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, says the herbal remedy won’t prevent a cold or lessen symptoms.

imageEchinacea angustifolia

Photo: Garden Guides

Scott Ogden writes that coneflowers—purple petals and orange centers—clash even with themselves. They certainly have been subject to controversy.

Echinacea angustifolia was used by Plains Indians for all sorts of ailments, from mumps to snakebite. Today, it’s one of the most sought after products in herbal medicine. Last year alone, “Americans spent $155 million on products that contained the herb,” mainly to ward off common colds.

A major new scientific study, involving 437 subjects, has concluded “extracts of E. angustifolia root, either alone or in combination, do not have clinically significant effects on infection with a rhinovirus or on the clinical illness that results from it.” The experiment had been designed to study the effectiveness of three different preparations of echinacea root in preventing colds or minimizing sniffles and sore throat. But when compared with the effects of the placebo, echinacea in any form provided no remedy at all—or so the scientists contend.

Dr. Ronald Turner of the University of Virginia School of Medicine, who led the study, wrote that with these findings, “the burden of proof should lie with those who advocate this treatment.”

The American Botanical Council had its rebuttal ready. In a statement released today, ABC raised several issues, among them— that the plant extracts used in the study “do not correlate with commercial echinacea products,” that doses were too infrequent and too low, and that the test was administered to college age people only.

We’re eager to hear what our herbalist readers—and anyone else—thinks of the new study.

(I’ve only tried echinacea once and honestly can’t remember if I caught a cold or not. Certainly a bouquet of coneflowers would alleviate self-pity, one of the more debilitating cold-symptoms.)

Posted by Julie on 07/28 at 09:46 AM