Tag Archives: corn

Native Plant Communities Of Iowa Article

By: Howard Bright

The Plant Communities of Iowa are vast but we will limit them to four major communities knowing there are many subgroups of these four.  What is a plant community? In nature, certain species are found growing together and they form specific colonies of plants called  “plant communities”. Native plants always grow in association with others to create plant communities that are essentially associations of indigenous species that have evolved over thousands of years and adapted to the specific geography, hydrology and climate of a particular area. The resulting “communities” are really groups of plants that exist together because of the given environmental conditions. 

Why is it important to know about natural plant communities?  It is very important because we can use these native plant communities as a prescription from nature in designing our wildflower gardens or landscapes.  There are four broad categories of native plant communities here in the Midwest and hundreds of sub categories as we break each of them down into more specific site conditions.  It is important to recognize which one of the four categories you would like to create or reconstruct.  The four major plant communities of the Midwest are: Prairies, Savannas, Wetlands and Woodlands.

When the white man drove deeper through the hardwood forest driving westward until they eventually broke through the dark shadows of trees and the shrubs of that forest land and peered out onto the blinding light of the open prairie, it was a sight to behold waving in the wind and appearing as a sea of rolling grasses dotted with the colors of blooming flowers.  Indeed this was a strange land to these new visitors.  Steeping out onto this sea of grass, the pioneer disappeared and kept moving westward.  This land was covered with Buffalo, Elk, Deer, Bear, Cougars, Prairie Chickens, Beaver and all kinds of wildlife.

It wasn’t long before this land was discovered, occupied and changed forever. In the 1800s, Iowans reworked the face of their new state with a speed and to an extent perhaps unparalleled in human history.  At the beginning of the century, a blanket of prairie cloaked three-quarters of this “land between two rivers.”  Pothole marshes dotted the flatter north-central part of the state, while a network of streams laced the rolling hills elsewhere across Iowa.  Dense forests engulfed some valleys in the east and groves of bur oaks climbed out of the river corridors and onto the ridges to form savannas.

Thousands of Native Americans lived on the land, harvesting wild plants and animals, growing crops, and occasionally managing the vegetation with fire.  By 1900, however, Euro-American settlers had claimed nearly all of Iowa’s 36 million acres as farmland. Non-Indian settlement officially began on June 1, 1833, when pioneers first were allowed to claim new land in the 6-million-acre Black Hawk Purchase along the west side of the Mississippi River.  By 1846, when Iowa became a state, census records listed 96,088 people.  The population doubled to 192,914 by 1850 and topped one million before 1870.  In 1900, Iowa had 2.2 million people, compared to 2.9 million people today.  Most lived on the state’s 200,000 farms, working land where 95 percent of the prairie, two-thirds of the woodlands, and most of the wetlands had been converted to agriculture.  This dramatic, swift, almost complete change of diverse prairie to a monoculture of cropland profoundly altered the ecosystem.  Twenty-eight million acres of bluestem, dropseed, compass plants, coneflowers, gentians, and hundreds other species were transformed, in a relative eye-blink, into a patchwork of corn, wheat, oats, hay, and pasture.  Those plots have expanded to the huge roadside-to-roadside corn and soybean fields that we see today.

Before Iowa was settled a map depicts the vegetation that was present around 1850.  Note the majority of the landscape was tall grass prairie.  There were thousands of acres of wetlands, especially in Central and Northwest Iowa.  The Woodlands were confined to the steep areas along streams and in the Driftless area of Iowa.  Rolling and steeper hills were occupied by Savannas.

It only took 60 to 70 years to almost completely change the ecosystem of Iowa.  It is said that this was one of the quickest and largest annihilations of a natural ecosystem.  Oxen with wooden and steel plows developed by John Deere ripped up the prairie sod and crops were planted.

Glacial deposits occurred over the entire state of Iowa during a period of 2.5 million years and as recent as 10,000 years ago.  The only region not affected by glaciations is northeast Iowa where bedrock is exposed in many areas.

A multitude of events were occurring simultaneously during the last glacial period known as the Wisconsian Glacial Age.  Notably, while the older glaciers of the Nebraskan, Kansan and Illinoinian had long retreated and left their heavy loads across the state, a new glacier advanced from the north covering the north central and central pars of the state.  At the same time huge amounts of silt were blowing in from the northwest from the exposed glacial plains due northwest of Iowa’s western border. Loose materials much younger than the bedrock beneath dominate the present land surface across Iowa. These materials consist of sediment originating from ice sheets, melt water streams, and strong winds during a series of glacial events between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago (Quaternary). This familiar “dirt” consists of pebbly clay, sand, gravel, and abundant silt, which over time have weathered into Iowa’s productive loamy soils. These easily eroded “Ice Age” deposits account for the gently rolling appearance of much of the Iowa (and Midwestern) landscape.

During the Ice Age, glaciers advanced down into the mid-continent of North America, grinding underlying rock into a fine powder like sediment called “glacial flour.” As temperatures warmed, the glaciers melted and enormous amounts of water and sediment rushed down the Missouri River valley. The sediment was eventually deposited on flood plains downstream, creating huge mud flats. During the winters the melt waters would recede, leaving the mud flats exposed. As they dried, fine-grained mud material called silt was picked up and carried by strong winds. These large dust clouds were moved eastward by prevailing westerly winds and were redeposited over broad areas. Heavier, coarser silt, deposited closest to its Missouri River flood plain source, formed sharp, high bluffs on the western margin of the Loess Hills. Finer, lighter silt, deposited farther east, created gently sloping hills on the eastern margin. This process repeated for thousands of years, building layer upon layer until the loess reached thicknesses of 60 feet or more and became the dominant feature of the terrain.

Even though the prairie is gone, it has left us with a black treasure, our soil.  Over the eons of time the plants that grew on the prairie formed the richest soil on this planet.  Millions of acres are blanketed with black earth known as prairie soils.

What makes soils the way they are?  How did Iowa end up being the most fertile land in the world?   A unique combination and interaction of all of these factors formed our soils.  How are the soils of Iowa different?  By changing just one factor, we affect a major change in the soil.

Factors that interacted to form our soils can be simplified to: Parent Material, Climate, Topography, Vegetation, Time and Human Beings.

Soils are conceived, as we are, from our Parent Material.  Parent materials are composed of the raw earth that lays exposed to the elements. Major parent materials in Iowa consist of bedrock, glacial deposits called glacial till, water deposited material or alluvial deposits, and wind blown silt known as “loess”.  In other parts of the world, soils may be formed in volcanic ash or rock.

Climate has a profound effect on our soils as they are influenced by rainfall, temperature, freezing and thawing, sunlight and day length.

The way the land lays called Topography greatly influences our soils.  From the steep hills along river corridors to the level bottomlands, slope of the land can change the characteristics of our soils.

Vegetation and Organisms dramatically affect our soils.  Within a very localized area, we can note the effect of our past vegetation and what influence it has had on soils.  From the deep rich organic prairie soils developed under the influence of the tall grass prairie to the soils developed under a woodland condition depth of topsoil and fertility vary greatly.

We probably forget about a factor that is ever present and that factor is Time.  It is obvious when we think about the sediment deposited by a river or stream, which is in geologic times, is extremely young.  What a contrast when we sit atop a rock out crop that has been exposed for eons of time.  The stream deposited material stays forever young while the bedrock of a long ago sedimentized ocean bottom gets older and older.  Soils can’t hide their age either.

On the recent geologic scene came Humans and they have now joined the forces of soil forming factors.  By plowing, the natural vegetation and protection of the soil has been removed increasing erosion to an alarming rate.  Topsoil is destroyed, texture of the soil, which allows infiltration of water, is altered, soil forming organisms are eliminated, fertility is diminished as organic matter is washed away and soil tilth is destroyed.  Man has and is having his influence on our soils.  Fallow land and row crops now occupy land that was once a lush sponge to absorb water and cleanse it.

Once we understand the importance of our geologic past, recent history and soil forming factors, we can start to put together nature’s puzzle.  This intricate puzzle laid down over the eons is now at our fingertips for those who pay attention.

What other questions do we need to ask to get this right combination of plants that will fit our site?

  • What direction is your site facing, called Aspect?  A north and northeasterly direction may receive much less sunlight on a steeper slope than those facing south or west on the same steepness of slope due to the angle of the sun.
  • Is your site level, rolling or steep?  Slope as a steep south slope may be hot and dry while a steep north slope may be cool and moist.
  • How much Sunlight does your site get?  If it is dense shade versus full sunlight, you will need entirely different plants to suit your situation.
  • What is the condition of the soil in regards to Soil Moisture?  Drainage of the soil can range from saturated to excessively drained.
  • What are the sizes of the particles that make up your soil, called Texture.   It could range from sand to clay which an important characteristic to note as some plants will not tolerate these conditions.  For detailed description of your soils contact your local NRCS office and get a soil survey report of your county.

Absorbing and understanding the characteristics of our landscapes and soils allows us to then classify our sites.  In site classification we will assign a general category to our site based on all the previously mentioned information.  There are basically five sites to consider:

  • Dry
  • Dry Mesic
  • Mesic
  • Wet Mesic
  • Wet

Next we need to decide which plant community we are dealing with.  It may be a pre-existing condition or one that we want to create.  It is usually best to take what nature has given us if we have that opportunity.  However, if you live in an urban area, your site may have been severely altered and you will have to decide what you want to create there.  As mentioned before, we have four categories of plant communities:

  • Prairie
  • Savanna
  • Wetland
  • Woodland

Once the plant community is determined, select the most appropriate species for your plant community.  Now you are using nature’s prescription for success in creating your native wildflower planting.

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Honey Bees and Bt Corn Insecticide

Farmers have been given the supposed cure to their illness of combating weeds through the use of genetic manipulation to a allow chemicals to be used on crops. It sounded too good to be true just as people have bought into the idea of believing their doctors when they subscribe toxic drugs with huge life threatening side affects to cure human ailments and diseases. The immune system of nature is being damaged and choices of farming methods and use of genetically diverse varieties of crops has dwindled to just a few that Monsanto has orchestrated and therefore dominate the market. Science and technology are wonderful things but they can be detrimental when only used to create domination and control over our freedom of choice.  – Howard Bright

Bt Corn, Insecticide use and Honey Bees Farmers have been given the supposed cure to their illness of combating weeds through the use of genetic manipulation to a allow chemicals to be used on crops. It sounded too good to be true just as people have bought into the idea of believing their doctors when they subscribe toxic drugs with huge life threatening side affects to cure human ailments and diseases. The immune system of nature is being damaged and choices of farming methods and use of genetically diverse varieties of crops has dwindled to just a few that Monsanto has orchestrated and therefore dominate the market. Science and technology are wonderful things but they can be detrimental when only used to create domination and control over our freedom of choice. – Howard Bright Ion Exchange Inc. Here is an article on this subject 1.Genetically Engineered Crops in the Real World – Bt Corn, Insecticide Use, and Honey Bees 2. Are Pesticides Behind Massive Bee Die-Offs? — — 1.Genetically Engineered Crops in the Real World – Bt Corn, Insecticide Use, and Honey Bees Doug Gurian-Sherman Union of Concerned Scientists, January 10 2012 http://blog.ucsusa.org/genetically-engineered-crops-in-the-real-world-%E2%80%93-bt-corn-insecticide-use-and-honeybees-2 One of the most frequently mentioned benefits of genetically engineered crops is a reduction in chemical pesticide use on corn and cotton. These chemicals typically kill not only pest insects but also beneficial insects that help control pests or pollinate crops. They may also harm other friendly organisms like birds. But in reality, corn engineered to kill certain insect pests—AKA Bt corn—has mainly resulted in the replacement of one group of chemical insecticides with another. Previously, corn may have been sprayed, or soil treated with chemical insecticides to control several insect pests, especially corn rootworm. Bt has largely eliminated (at least for the time being) the demand for insecticides to control rootworm or European corn borer. But those who tout the benefits of GE fail to mention that today virtually all corn seed is treated instead with chemical insecticides called neonicotinoids to ward off several corn insects not well controlled by Bt toxins. And while almost all corn is now treated with insecticide via the seed, substantial amounts of corn went untreated by insecticides prior to Bt. For example, corn alternated (rotated) with soybeans from year to year usually needed little or no insecticide treatment, and only five to 10 percent of corn was sprayed for corn borers. Dead bees A new publication by several academic entomologists on the impact of neonicotinoid insecticides on honey bees shows that such seed treatment may be having serious repercussions. Previous research has linked neonicotinoids to bee deaths as a possible contributor to colony collapse disorder, which is wreaking havoc on bees across the United States. The new research is important in showing that when neonicotinoid insecticides are used as seed treatments, they can migrate through the soil or through the air in dust to other plants near (or in) corn fields, like dandelions, which honey bees prefer as a pollen source. It was already known that this type of insecticide can travel through the plant as it grows, and this study also shows corn pollen contaminated with this insecticide and substantial corn pollen use by honey bees. Importantly, the amount of the insecticide found in and around corn fields is near the range known to kill honey bees, and dead bees collected near treated fields contained insecticide residues. It is also known that sub-lethal doses of these insecticides can disorient bees, and may make them more susceptible to pathogens and parasites. There are a few pieces of the puzzle that still remain to be put into place, but it is looking likely that neonicotinoid seed treatments are harming U.S. honey bees. Let’s get real Other research indicates that corn seed treatment is harming other types of beneficial insects. An extensive study in the U.S. Northeast on many types of beneficial beetles that are found in corn fields showed that neonicotinoid seed treatments likely harmed several of these species, although other species may fill in. This study was limited to beetles, did not include other beneficial insects, spiders and mites, and did not examine the implications for crop damage. Other research has shown that reductions in beneficial organisms can result in decreased crop yields. In general, current data suggests that the new, ubiquitous seed treatments that have accompanied Bt corn are just as harmful as the insecticides they are replacing. And it illustrates that the impacts of GE technology must be considered more broadly than just direct harm from an engineered gene or protein. As the authors of one of the studies wrote: “Field experimentation must consider the effects of these broader systems for realistic evaluation of currently deployed transgenic crops.” University of Illinois entomologist Mike Gray, an expert on corn rootworm, summarized the state of U.S. corn production in a recent research article: “The current lack of integration of management tactics for insect pests of maize in the U.S. Corn Belt, due primarily to the escalating use of transgenic Bt hybrids, may eventually result in resistance evolution and/or other unforeseen consequences.” It is not incidental or coincidental that corn seed—and seed from more and more other crops like soybeans—is being treated with insecticides. It is a consequence of the susceptibility of our overly-simplified, biologically-pauperized agricultural system, which relies on piecemeal pest control approaches like Bt and chemical insecticides rather than ecologically based systems that greatly reduce the opportunities for pests to get a foothold. So, why not GE AND agroecology ? Some vocal advocates of GE have acknowledged that we need to use better, ecologically based agriculture practices, but maintain that we should integrate GE into those systems. Such an approach would likely improve the sustainability of GE pest control. But how would it advance truly sustainable agriculture? In healthy agro-ecosystems, there is usually limited need for these types of pest control, and in most cases, that need can be met through breeding at much less expense than GE. The fact is that GE seed is expensive (because GE research and development is very expensive). And the large seed companies have a near monopoly on this technology, so they can jack up seed prices even further. Why should farmers be saddled with these unnecessary costs when cheaper technologies will work in the large majority of cases? As I have written before, GE may occasionally have a useful role, and may sometimes provide real benefits. But in a sensible agriculture system it is not clear that it is really needed, or worth the cost. (Thanks to Chuck Benbrook at the Organic Center for alerting me to the new article on bees and neonicotinoid insecticides) About the author: Doug Gurian-Sherman is a widely-cited expert on biotechnology and sustainable agriculture. He holds a Ph.D. in plant pathology. — — 2.Are Pesticides Behind Massive Bee Die-Offs? Tom Philpott Mother Jones, Jan 10 2012 http://motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2012/01/purdue-study-implicates-bayer-pesticide-bee-die-offs? For the German chemical giant Bayer, neonicotinoid pesticides—synthetic derivatives of nicotine that attack insects’ nervous systems—are big business. In 2010, the company reeled in 789 million euros (more than $1 billion) in revenue from its flagship neonic products imidacloprid and clothianidin. The company’s latest quarterly report shows that its “seed treatment” segment—the one that includes neonics—is booming. In the quarter that ended on September 30, sales for the company’s seed treatments jumped 28 percent compared to the same period the previous year. Such results no doubt bring cheer to Bayer’s shareholders. But for honeybees—whose population has come under severe pressure from a mysterious condition called colony collapse disorder—the news is decidedly less welcome. A year ago on Grist, I told the story of how this class of pesticides had gained approval from the EPA in a twisted process based on deeply flawed (by the EPA’s own account) Bayer-funded science. A little later, I reported that research by the USDA’s top bee scientist, Jeff Pettis, suggests that even tiny exposure to neonics can seriously harm honeybees. Now a study from Purdue University researchers casts further suspicion on Bayer’s money-minting concoctions. To understand the new paper—published in the peer-reviewed journal Plos One—it’s important to know how seed treatments work, which is like this: The pesticides are applied directly to seeds before planting, and then get absorbed by the plant’s vascular system. They are “expressed” in the pollen and nectar, where they attack the nervous systems of insects. Bayer targeted its treatments at the most prolific US crop—corn—and since 2003, corn farmers have been blanketing millions of acres of farmland with neonic-treated seeds. No one disputes that neonics are highly toxic to bees. But Bayer insists—and so far, the EPA concurs—that little if any neonic-laced pollen actually makes it into beehives, and that exposure to tiny amounts has no discernible effect on hive health. Bayer also claims that bees don’t forage much on corn pollen. The Purdue study calls all of this into question. The researchers looked at beehives near corn fields and found that bees are “exposed to these compounds [neonics] and several other agricultural pesticides in several ways throughout the foraging period.” Contradicting Bayer’s claim that bees don’t forage much in cornfields, they found that “maize pollen was frequently collected by foraging honey bees while it was available: maize pollen comprised over 50% of the pollen collected by bees, by volume, in 10 of 20 samples.” They detected “extremely high” levels of Bayer’s clothianidin in the fumes that rise up when farmers plant corn seed in the spring. They found it in the soil of fields planted with treated seed—and also in adjacent fields that hadn’t been recently planted. And they found it in dandelion weeds growing near cornfields—suggesting that the weeds might be taking it up from the soil. Most alarmingly of all, they found it in dead bees “collected near hive entrances during the spring sampling period,” as well as in “pollen collected by bees and stored in the hive.” Now, neonic pesticides likely have two separate effects on bees: an acute one during spring corn planting, when huge clouds of neonic-infested dust rises up, at doses that kill bees that come into contact with it. Those population losses weaken hives but don’t typically destroy them. And then there’s a gradual effect—what scientists call “chronic”—when bees bring in pollen contaminated at low levels by neonicotinoids. Research by the USDA’s Pettis suggests that even microscopic levels of exposure to neonics compromises bees’ immune systems, leaving hives vulnerable to other pathogens and prone to collapse. The EPA has thus far relied on Bayer-funded research to maintain its registration of clothianidin —even after a leaked document in late 2010 showed that its own staff scientists found Bayer’s research to be shoddy. The agency ignored the ensuing controversy and once again let farmers plant seed treated with Bayer’s concoction. The Purdue researchers report that “virtually all” of the vast US corn crop is now planted with seed treated with Bayer’s dodgy pesticide, and the technology is rapidly spreading to the other most prodigious US crops: soybeans, cotton, and wheat. Now, ahead of the 2012 growing season, we have peer-reviewed, USDA-funded research that bluntly challenges Bayer’s claims and implicates it in colony collapse disorder. Will the EPA look the other way while tens of millions of acres are poisoned for the nation’s besieged honey bees? Frankly, quite probably so. Bees can’t organize political campaigns, of course, and the beekeeper lobby doesn’t wield much influence in the grand scheme of things—though Pesticide Action Network is working hard to amplify their voice. Bayer, meanwhile, is a paid-up member of Croplife America, a powerful agribusiness interest group that the Obama administration won’t likely want to tangle with heading into an election. Bad news for bees—and bad news for the ecosystem of which they’re such a vital part: ours. Tom Philpott is the food and ag blogger for Mother Jones. ………………………………………………………. Website: http://www.gmwatch.org Profiles: http://www.powerbase.info/index.php/GM_Watch:_Portal Twitter: http://twitter.com/GMWatch Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/pages/GMWatch/276951472985?ref=nf This email should only be sent to those who have asked to receive it. To unsubscribe, contact editor@gmwatch.eu, specifying which list you wish to unsubscribe from. _____________________________________________________ Iowa Native Plants Mailing List IOWA-NATIVE-PLANTS@LIST.UIOWA.EDU http://www.cgrer.uiowa.edu/herbarium/MailingList.htm The Iowa Native Plants Mailing List provides a forum for those interested in Iowa’s natural vegetation and in general conservation issues. Another objective is to promote the Iowa Native Plant Society. This list is owned and managed by Diana Horton, and sponsored by the University of Iowa Department of Biology. For assistance, contact Diana Horton, diana-horton@uiowa.edu Posted by Kay at 3:50 PM 0 comments Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook Labels: chemicals, clothianidin, farming, honey bees, honeybees, insecticide, USDA Tuesday, February 07, 2012 You Wont Want to Miss Watching Doc Hammill on RFD TV Feb. 17th Doc Hammill provides essential advice and rulesto follow to prevent wrecks and accidents when driving horses. Go here and learn all about it. Watch The Events Page on The Natural Gait website for Our Upcoming Doc Hammill Clinic, held in June, DBA! It’s an Annual June Event You Won’t Want to Miss! Posted by Kay at 8:02 AM 0 comments Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook Labels: Doc Hammill, Doc Hammill Clinic, The Natural Gait Monday, January 23, 2012 The Natural Gait – Horse Trainer Hi Terri, I just wanted to send a picture of the 3 year old gelding Nieche, that you started and we bought from you when you lived in MASS. He is such a nice horse. He is better than most of the older horses we ride with! You helped a lot of us with our horses. You have a gift! I feel blessed to have been able have lessons that has totally changed my horsemanship for the better. I cant not thank you enough,for everything and of course the most important Naiche! Thank you Theresa J, You can contact Terri at The Natural Gait Posted by Kay at 10:50 AM 0 comments Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook Labels: Equestrian, equine, Horse, horse clinics, horse training, horsemanship Wednesday, December 21, 2011 Happy Holidays from All of us. Happy Holidays from The Natural Gait The Natural Gait * Ion Exchange, Inc. 1878 Old Mission Drive, Harpers Ferry, IA 52146 877-776-2208 TheNaturalGait.com * TNGmercantile. ntrlgait@acegroup.cc Ion Exchange Inc. A Native Seed and Plant Nursery Hbright@ionxchange.com Posted by Kay at 9:57 AM 0 comments Email ThisBlogThis!Share to TwitterShare to Facebook Labels: Happy Holidays Tuesday, December 20, 2011 Learn About Echinecea the Beautiful Purple Coneflower Purple Coneflower What Is Echinecea? Taken from Hair Boutique.com (Health and wellness tip of the week) At this time of year colds and influenza becomes a big concern. Especially during the Holidays when people mingle in larger groups than normal. Due to the economy, changes in health coverage and other issues, more people are searching for alternative treatments for minor health concerns such as colds and flu. Echinacea has become more popular as an option. It’s often combined with goldenseal as a herbal alternative for amping up the immune system to block cold and flu viruses from taking hold. Used By Native Americans Echinacea angustifolia was widely used for its general medicinal qualities by the Native North Americans who lived in the Midwestern states. Native Americans learned of E. angustifolia by observing elk seeking out the plants and consuming them when sick or wounded. They identified those plants as elk root. Echinacea was one of the basic antimicrobial herbs of eclectic medicine from the mid 19th century through the early 20th century. Its use was documented for snakebite, anthrax, and for relief of discomfort. In the 1930s echinacea became popular in both Europe and America as a herbal medicine. Echinacea Is A Flowering Plant Echinacea pronounced ek-i-NAY-sha is a genus of herbaceous flowering plant in the Asteraceae daisy family. It’s a popular alternative herbal style of treatment believed by many to help with cold and influenza prevention and/or treatment. The generic name Echinacea is rooted in a Greek word echinos, meaning sea urchin. It references the spiky appearance and feel of the flower heads. Echinacea plants reseed in the fall. New flowers will grow where seeds have fallen from the prior year. Echinacea still falls under the category of folk remedy. You should always consult with your primary health care provider before taking any type of herbs or alternative treatments. Species Of Echinacea It’s also known as the purple coneflower. It’s a North American plant group with nine species, three of which are commonly believed to help with cold and influenza prevention. Cold And Flu Properties The three species valued for their cold and flu properties include: 1. Echinacea angustifolia – Narrow-leaf Coneflower 2. Echinacea pallida – Pale Purple Coneflower 3. Echinacea purpurea – Purple Coneflower, Eastern Purple Coneflower The flowering plant is generally found in eastern and central North America. It thrives in moist to dry prairies and open wooded areas. It blooms from early to late Summer and is tolerant of drought conditions. Does Echinacea Really Work? Many people swear by echinacea (or combination remedies) as their go-to herb for preventing or minimizing the impact of colds and flu attacks. Does it really work for everyone who takes it? Absolutely not. There is not one single remedy – prescription or alternative – which works 100% for all people of all ages. There are a vast number of variables which have to be considered for any type of remedy. The same holds true for echinacea. While some users of alternative treatment swear by it, others find it doesn’t help them at all. The truth of whether echinacea works or not, and who it works for, is generally a matter of personal experience. I personally have been taking echinacea or echinacea goldenseal formulations for close to 30 years. I believe it helps me when I am fighting off a cold or flu. But it definitely doesn’t help some of my family and friends who’ve tried it. After much research I found the liquid capusules available from Gaia Herbs work best for me. Herbal teas or herbal pills have not proven to be as effective which confirms my opinion that everyone needs to do their own research, talk to their own health care professionals and make their own decisions before taking any type of alternative treatment. Note: We do not sell Gaia Herbs at HairBoutique.com. I mention Gaia products because they work well for me and I have used them for many years. I am sure other brands may work just as well, but I can not recommend any which I have not personally tried. Not A One Dose Treatment Proponents of echinacea assert it is not a “one-dose” treatment. In order for echinacea to work effectively, a dose should be taken at the very first sign of cold symptoms. Subsequent doses are called for every two to four hours after the first dose, including during the overnight sleeping period, until the cold symptoms have disappeared. The several species of echinacea differ in their precise chemical constitution, and may provide variable dosages of any active ingredients. Be sure to read the suggested dosages contained on the product labels or follow instructions from your health care provider. Possible Side Effects? Always consult with your primary care health consultant before taking echinacea to make sure you are not at risk for any side effects. When taken by mouth, echinacea does not usually cause side effects. One of the most extensive and systematic studies to review the safety of echinacea products concluded that overall “adverse events are rare, mild and reversible” with the most common symptoms being “gastrointestinal and skin-related.” Although rare, echinacea may cause nausea, abdominal cramps, loose bowels, itching and rash. Nausea and abdominal discomofrt are more pronounced when the product is taken on an empty stomach. Echinacea has also been linked to rare allergic reactions, including asthmatic attacks, shortness of breath, and one case of anaphylaxis. Muscle and joint aches has been associated with echinacea, but it may have been caused by cold or flu symptoms for which the echinacea products were administered. Isolated Cases Of Rare Side Effects There are isolated case reports of very rare and idiosyncratic reactions including thrombocytopenic purpura, leucopenia, hepatitis, renal failure, and atrial fibrillation. It is not clear these reactions were specifically due to echinacea and may have been part of a larger medical issue. Experts have expressed concerns that by stimulating immune functions, echinacea could potentially exacerbate autoimmune disease and/or decrease the effectiveness of immunosuppresive formulas, but this warning is based on theoretical considerations rather than human data. To date there have been no case reports of any interactions with echinacea. The “currently available evidence suggests echinacea is unlikely to pose serious health threats for patients combining it with conventional formulas.” As a matter of manufacturing safety, one investigation by an independent consumer testing laboratory found that five of eleven selected retail echinacea products failed quality testing. Four of the failing products contained levels of phenols below the potency level stated on the labels. One was contaminated with lead. Ultimately only select products which are known for their manufacturing safety and guality practices. Scientific Reviews Multiple scientific reviews, trials and meta-analyses have evaluated the published peer reviewed literature on the immunological effects of echinacea. Reviews of the medicinal effects of echinacea are often complicated by the inclusion of a wide range of mixtures. Some formulas are based solely upon echinacea while others are combinations. Also, some formulations are offered in higher potency or delivery systems than others. Some use the roots versus other parts of the plants and some are offered as extracts and expressed juice. There are also three of the nine species known to help with cold and flu conditions and may be used alone or in combination with each other herbal ingredients. Contradictory Claims Of Echinacea Effectiveness Evaluation of the literature within the field generally suffers from a lack of well-controlled trials, with many studies of lower quality. The results tend to be contradictory. Depending upon what studies you read, echinacea works or it has no effect. A 2007 study by the University of Connecticut combined findings from 14 previously reported trials examining echinacea. The study concluded echinacea can cut the chances of catching a cold by more than half, and shorten the duration of a cold by an average of 1.4 days. A 2003 controlled double-blind study from the University of Virginia School of Medicine and documented in the New England Journal of Medicine stated that echinacea extracts had “no clinically significant effects” on rates of infection or duration or intensity of symptoms. The effects held when the herb was taken immediately following infectious viral exposure and when taken as a prophylaxis starting a week prior to exposure. An earlier University of Maryland review based on 13 European studies concluded that echinacea, when taken at first sign of a cold, reduced cold symptoms or shortened their duration. Use Of Expressed Juice And Similar The European Medicines Agency (EMEA) assessed the body of evidence on echinacea. The EMEA approved the use of expressed juice and dried expressed juice from fresh flowering aerial parts of Echinacea purpurea for the short-term prevention and treatment of the common cold. According to their recommendations: 1. It should not be used for more than 10 days at a time 2. Children under the age of one should not take it because they have immature immune systems 3. It is generally not recommended for children between 1 and 12 years of age 4. Echinacea is not recommended for use by pregnant women and during lactation Echinacea As Immunostimulator Echinacea is popularly believed to be an immunostimulator, stimulating the body’s non-specific immune system and warding off infections. It is also utilized as a laxative. A study commonly used to support that belief is a 2007 meta-analysis in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. The studies pooled in the meta-analysis used different types of echinacea, different parts of the plant, and various dosages. This review cannot inform recommendations on the efficacy of any particular type of echinacea, dosage, or treatment regimen. The safety of echinacea under long-term use is also unknown. History Of Echinacea Use Echinacea angustifolia was widely used by the early Native Americans for its general medicinal qualities. Echinacea was one of the basic antimicrobial herbs of eclectic medicine from the mid 19th century through the early 20th century. Its use was documented for snakebite, anthrax, and for relief of aches. In the 1930s echinacea became popular in both Europe and America as a herbal medicine. According to Wallace Sampson, MD, its modern day use as a treatment for the common cold began when a Swiss herbal supplement maker was “erroneously told” echinacea was used for cold prevention by Native American tribes who lived in the area of South Dakota. Although Native Americans didn’t use echinacea to prevent the common cold, some Plains tribes did use echinacea to treat many of the symptoms which could be caused by the common cold. The Kiowa used it for coughs and sore throats, the Cheyenne for sore throats, the Pawnee for headaches, and many tribes including the Lakotah used it as relief for congestion. Active Substances Like most crude formulas from plant or animal origin, the constituent base for echinacea is complex, consisting of a wide variety of chemicals of variable effect and potency. Some chemicals may be directly antimicrobial, while others may work at stimulating or modulating different parts of the immune system. All species have chemical compounds called phenols, which are common to many other plants. Both the phenol compounds of cichoric and caftaric are present in E. purpurea. Other phenols include echinacoside, which is found in greater levels within E. angustifolia and E. pallida roots than in other species. When making herbal remedies, these phenols can serve as markers for the quantity of raw echinacea in the product. Other chemical constituents that may be important in echinacea health effects include alkylamides and polysaccharides. Summary Does echinacea work to help boost the immune system and help block cold and flu viruses from attacking? There is a lot of conflicting opinions about the value of this herb. Ultimately you need to do your own research, form your own opinions and always check with your primary care provider. Warning: Always consult your health care provider BEFORE you undertake any new type of vitamin, mineral program or herbal program of any type to make sure it does not interfere with any medical treatment you may currently be on. References Foster, Steven, “Cold Comfort” Longevitiy Magazine, February 1996, 32 Canlas J, Hudson JB, Sharma M, Nandan D.,”Echinacea and trypanasomatid parasite interactions: Growth-inhibitory and anti-inflammatory effects of Echinacea”. Pharm Biol. 2010 Sep;48(9):1047-52 Image courtesy Haap Media, Ltd. 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