In The Us, the craze for echinacea, an "anti-flu herb" has reached epidemic proportions as news of its efficacy spreads word-of-mouth from bank managers to executives, secretaries to lawyers. Annual sales in the US are at nearly $80m and, according to the American trade magazine Whole Foods, it is the best-selling herbal product in US health-food stores.
In Germany, where there over 300 echinacea products to choose from and they are so convinced of it's effect that health insurance pays for it. In Britain, many people have already woken up to echinacea's sneeze-stopping properties.
Echinacea (pronounced ek-in-esia) angustifolia is one of nine varieties of the purple coneflower and was used by American Indians to treat everything from colds to gonorrhea. It is sold in either tablet, dried root or nasty- tasting tincture form. The tincture is the most effective way to take it, in 20-drop doses three times a day in warm water.
But is it just a psychosomatic cure for new-agers? "Echinacea contains an anti-viral agent which stops the flu virus from taking hold," explains Chris Steward, president of the the National Institute of Medical Herbalists, "so it's good to take it early. Echinacea also has properties which help boost your immune system if you're already ill.
"You shouldn't take it all the time because you can become immune to it," he explains, "so you would have to take a higher dose when you get ill for it to be effective."
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