Echinacea is native to North America, with about 10 species growing naturally in open woods and plains in the central United States and Canada. The most common Echinacea species are Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea pallida and Echinacea angustifolia. Echinacea purpurea is the one most often used as a dietary supplement.
American Indians were the first peoples to recognize the benefits of Echinacea, and numerous tribes used the species that grew in their regions. In fact, Echinacea was probably the most used medicinal plant by Native Americans in the midwest.
The leaves and roots were used as a tea, placed directly on the tooth for toothaches and applied topically to the skin. The most common uses were for immune system related problems, just as we use it today. The Cheyenne used a tea of leaves and roots for sore throats. The Kiowa chewed the root and swallowed the juice for coughs and sore throats. Comanche also used Echinacea for colds and sore throats. In addition, Echinacea earned the name Snakeroot because several tribes found it helpful for treating snakebites.
Early white settlers learned of the benefits of Echinacea from the Indians as they moved into the central U.S. It was given to their animals as well as being used by the settlers themselves.
Echinacea was first introduced to the American health profession in 1887 by John Uri Lloyd, a famous pharmacist and manufacturer of herbal medicines. It was used and recommended by thousands of doctors and became a widely used herbal medicine of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. With the growth of drug medicine in the 20th century, Echinacea lost favor in America until the herbal renaissance of the late 20th century.
However, German researchers discovered Echinacea in the 1930’s and began to popularize its use in Europe. Most of the clinical research with Echinacea over the past 50 years has been done in Europe, and millions of Europeans now use Echinacea purpurea herb juice for immune support and upper respiratory health on a regular basis. The story came full circle back to America when in 1986 the first company to introduce this proven product in the United States was Yerba Prima, of Ashland, Oregon.