Today we see various textbooks, magazines, and company literature describing polysaccharides -- very large starchy molecules -- as the most important active constituents in echinacea. It is true that German researchers studies these constituents extensively during the 1980s, and even obtained a patent for an injectable preparation of echinacea polysaccharides. What is usually missing in the textbooks is the information that these constituents are insoluble in the amount of alcohol that is present in an herbal tincture. Thus, these are not present in most of the echinacea preparations that have been used in medicine.
The flip side of this legend is that actual polysaccharide preparations of echinacea -- teas made by long decoction (most polysaccharides are soluble in hot water)-- are very potent medicines. Most contemporary echinacea use is in the form of the alcoholic tinctures. Indeed abundant research shows that alcohol soluble constituents are active in stimulating immunity. But these constituent are not the -only- active components any more than polysaccharides are. I and several physician-colleagues have been using strong decoctions of echinacea for the last several years -- 1/2 to 1 cups of cut-and-sifted Echinacea angustifolia in 1-2 quarts of water, simmered for 40 minutes, then strained, with a quart of the tea taken over the course of 1-2 hours. We have seen conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease, severe strep infection, kidney infection, antibiotic-resistant staph cellulitis, copperhead bite, infectious complication of oral surgery and other conditions cured rapidly with this treatment. Sometimes the crisis is overcome within a few hours. In several cases, external application of this preparation, in conjunction with the internal use, has proved very useful for serious topical infection. Paul Bergner, North American Institute of Medical Herbalism