Echinacea polysaccharide myth.

Newsgroups: alt.folklore.herbs
Subject: Re: Echinacea: I found it !!
From: Paul Bergner <>
Date: Wed, 1 Jun 94 02:21:06 -0500

The hulabaloo about polysaccharides in echinacea was also started by companies interested in proving that their echinacea is better than everyone else's. The actual scientifc research on echinacea polysaccharides is usually done with purified concentrated polysaccharides which are then injected into test animals. This sort of research is the kind that durg companies do in order to fund new things to use or synthesize. it has little relevance to human clinical practice, however, because polysaccharides, basically being like sugars or starches are digested before most of them get anywhere near your immune system to stimulate it. Some companies jumped on the polysaccharide research in order to say that their products (freeze-dried ech in this case) was better than the tinctures.

By the way, the polysaccharides precipate out of echinacea tea at about 5% alcohol. You can actually brew a ttea and put acohol into it by the drop and watch the mucus-like substance fall out.

If anyone is really concerned about thepolysaccharides, simply take the powdered herb. Most practitioners report that the tincture works better clinically --perhaps because it is liquid already more of the active substances are delivered to the bloodstream.

Paul Bergner, Editor, MEDICAL HERBALISM

From: Paul Bergner <>

The polysaccharides are insolube in alcohol, but they are also digestible in the gut (they are sugars after all), meaning that that are not the main active ingredients in echinacea in the first place. Echinacea was first discovered among the indians who a) chewed the root, or b) juiced it. It was then carried into medical practice throughout the US in the form of a tincture. The tincture was so effective in so many conditions that it gained worldwide reputation. Scientific research into echinacea took place in Germany in the 1940s, and has been continuously researched ever since. ONE possible active ingredient is the polysaccharide fraction, but the alcohol soluble fraction is also immune stimulating. All the research on polysaccharides has been done on EXTRACTED polysaccharides INJECTED into test animals. They inject it because the substances would be destroyed by the gut. There's no reason to think the polysaccharides are necessary to get any of the wonderful benefits of the tincture that first brought this herb to world attention.

Paul Bergner, Editor, MEDICAL HERBALISM


> The actual scientific research on echinacea polysaccharides

Well, here is some info from European research according to Weiss "Herbal Medicine" and sources quoted there:

WAGNER was able to isolate water soluble polysaccharide from the upper part of echinacea as the immune stimulating principle. They showed high activity in various immunological tests. The stimulation of the immune system occurs through activation of T- and B-lymphozytes. WAGNER and PROKSCH summarized: "Interestingly enough, polysaccharids lead to a distinct interferonization...."

Weiss adds that we are fortunate to have an herbal alternative to Interferon which is very difficult to isolate.
And according to WACKER and HILBIG echinacea has antiviral properties as shown in extensive research. It corresponds to interferon and has the added advantage of thermic stability providing a long shelf life. The inhibitory effects have been shown against all viruses, esp. RNS (influenca) and DNS viruses (Herpes).

The German Physicians Desk Reference (FINTELMANN) calls for prescriptions including pressed juices of the fresh herb as well as other "galenic preparations" followed by a list of several commercial products.

WAGNER, ZFA (1983), pg. 1282-1289
WAGNER and PROKSCH, Zeitschrift fuer Phytotherapie (1981), pg. 166
WACKER and HILBIG, Planta medica 33 (1978), pg 89 - 102.
WEISS, Lehrbuch der Phytotheapie, 1991, pg. 297-299.
FINTELMANN, Phytotherapie Manual, 1993, pg. 213-214.


From: Paul Bergner <>

The research Weiss is citing here is research with injections of the polysaccharides into test animals. its relevant in Germany because the Germans have an injectible form of echinacea. The same Dr. Wagner cited in the example was the one who burst the "polysaccharides-are-the-actiive-constituent-in-echinacea bubble a few years ago at a world herbal conference when he said they were probably digested when taken orally. Other research by Wagner et al has identified an alcohol soluble fraction as also active, and acting through a different pathway. This research occurred after the latest edition of the Weiss book was in print.

Paul Bergner, Editor, MEDICAL HERBALISM