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By Christina Waters

ONE OF THE PRIMARY medicines among native peoples of North America,Echinacea angustifolia--purple coneflower-- was used in a favoritepoultice against snakebites, as a cold treatment, and to ease the aches ofarthritis. European settlers in the Midwest quickly adopted echinacea as aremedy, attracting the attention of the East Coast medical community, whichsoon sent samples of the flower and roots to colleagues across the Atlantic.

By the turn of the century, echinacea was a fixture in every medicine cabinetand enjoyed favor as a cold remedy until the raging debate betweenalternative healers and the AMA practitioners sent its use into a steepdecline. Once patent medicines and antibiotics came on the scene after WorldWar I, echinacea almost disappeared from use in the United States.

Today echinacea enjoys huge sales, largely owing to its widely reportedeffectiveness against that most stubborn of maladies--the common cold.Echinacea seems to be most potent as an extract. Confirmed users report thatif taken at the first sign of a scratchy throat or plugged-up nose, echinaceacan actually prevent a cold from developing.

How it does this occurs in several ways, according to a body of Germanstudies done over the past several decades. Echinacea not only acts toprevent infection from invading tissue, but is believed to strengthen theimmune system. Echinacea appears to boost the white blood cells' ability tokill germs.

Studies also indicate that it can increase levels of infection-fightingT-cells, and even more important--in terms of possible cancer-fightingimplications--echinacea simulates the infection-fighting abilities of ahormone called interferon, which is produced by the body. Purists can trygrowing their own echinacea, using organically grown seeds packaged by Seedsof Change.

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From the January 16-22, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent

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