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The decorative plant Echinacea purpurea, or purple coneflower, has been one of the most popular herbal medications in both the United States and Europe for over a century.
Native Americans used the related species Echinacea angustifoliafor a wide variety of problems, including respiratory infections and snakebite. Herbal physicians among the European colonists quickly added the herb to their repertoire. Echinacea became tremendously popular toward the end of the nineteenth century, when a businessman named H.C.F. Meyer promoted an herbal concoction containing E. angustifolia. The garish, exaggerated, and poorly written nature of his labeling helped define the characteristics of a "snake oil" remedy.
However, serious manufacturers developed an interest in echinacea as well. By...
In Europe, and increasingly in the US as well, echinacea products are widely used to treat colds and flus.
The best scientific evidence about echinacea concerns its ability to help you recover from colds and minor flus more quickly. The old saying goes that "a cold lasts 7 days, but if you treat it, it will be over in a week." However, good, if not entirely consistent, evidence tells us that echinacea can actually help you get over colds much faster. 1 It also appears to significantly reduce symptoms while you are sick. Echinacea may also be able to "abort" a cold, if taken at the first sign of symptoms. However, taking echinacea regularly throughout cold season is probably not a great idea. Evidence suggests that it does nothelp prevent colds. 2 Until recently, it...
Echinacea appears to be generally safe. Even when taken in very high doses, it has not been found to cause any toxic effects. 3 Reported side effects are also uncommon and usually limited to minor gastrointestinal symptoms, increased urination, and mild allergic reactions. 4 However, severe allergic reactions have occurred occasionally, some of them life threatening. 5 In Australia, one survey found that 20% of allergy-prone individuals were allergic to echinacea.
Other concerns relate to echinacea’s possible immune-stimulating properties. Immunity is a two-edged sword that the body keeps under careful control; excessively strong immune reactions can be dangerous. Based on this concern, echinacea should be used only with caution (if at all) by individuals...