A Case of Mistaken Identity
Parthenium is a perennial herb whose several regional varieties can be recognized in forest clearings, prairies, roadsides, and on granite and limestone outcrops. It grows from Massachusetts to Georgia and can be found as far west as Texas and Minnesota.
Because the root of the parthenium bares an uncanny resemblance to the echinacea purpurea root, dishonest substitution of the root by herb dealers has adulterated its name and reputation. Unfortunately, adulteration is a common problem in the herb industry. When an herb is popular, unscrupulous dealers may dilute it with other plants or substitute plants that look similar. Such is the case with parthenium. Though it does not possess echinacea’s flavor or fragrance, its resemblance is so similar that dealers have made this dishonest substitution. The parthenium, however, holds its own abilities and place in the herb industry and should be recognized for these attributes.
Parthenium is a part of the sunflower family which is known to provide us with numerous healing herbs. It grows to a height of about three feet and has long hairy leaves that are often over a foot in length. The herb also has white flowers that help to distinguish it from echinacea and which are currently finding a place in the potpourri market. Parthenium’s swollen dark brown root grows first vertically and may then expand horizontally.
European settlers of the Midwestern United States discovered this root to be used for coughs and sore throats by the Native Americans. The Catwbas tribe used its fresh leaves as a poultice on burns as well.
Parthenium is commonly known as “Missouri Snakeroot” which suggests it’s blood purifying properties exercised in the event of a snakebite. The root has a strong, bitter taste which is characteristic of all blood purifying herbs.
The tops of the plant posses a “quinine-like” bitterness and were used to treat intermittent fevers. Quinine has been known to treat malaria, a disease characterized by fevers. This earned the plant one of its common names, “wild quinine.”
Parthenium has traditionally been used to treat debility, fatigue, respiratory infection, gastrointestinal infection, and venereal disease. It is currently being used with great success by hundreds of herbalists throughout the United States and Europe for diseases such as lymphatic congestion, colds, ear infections, sore throats, fevers, infections, and Epstein barr virus.
Parthenium has been studied in scientific laboratories and clinics across Europe. Findings from these studies indicate that this herb stimulates the immune system. The nutritional profile of the plant matches very well with the nutrients one would find in an immune stimulating herb. It has a high content of both vitamin A and zinc (known to be useful to one’s immune system). This herb also contains the four sesquiterpene esters which include: echinadiol, epoxyecinadiol, echinaxanthol, and dihydroxynardol. These constituents increase the ability of the blood cells to digest foreign particles and aid in the stages of healing wounds in living organisms.
Parthenium has also been shown to both mobilize and activate natural killer cells and other immune cells. When the intake of Parthenium is combined with anaerobic exercise, immune cells are released into the blood stream, and their killing power and longevity are improved tenfold.
Recommended intake is two capsules with meals twice daily.
“Herb Traders Beware” by Stephen foster in Herbalgram (Spring 1985).
Nutritional Herbology by Mark Pedersen (Warsaw, Indiana: Wendell W. Whitman Company, 1994).
“Parthenium and Echinacea” in Nature’s field (March/April 1991).
“The Taxonomy of Parthenium “ by James A. Mears in Phitologia (Vol. 31, no. 6).