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What is it? Overview Usage Side Effects and Warnings

Echinacea Usage

Written by FoundHealth.


Effect of Echinacea on Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza)

Echinacea is generally thought to work by temporarily stimulating the immune system, although most (but not all) recent evidence has tended to cast doubt on this belief.104-105, 145-146 Contrary to...

Read more about Viral Upper Respiratory Infections (Colds and Influenza) and Echinacea.

Effect of Echinacea on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Not yet tested in isolation, echinacea has been studied with panax ginseng and might be helpful in treating chronic fatigue syndrome.

Read more about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) and Echinacea.

What Is Echinacea Used for Today?

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 was believed that echinacea acted by stimulating the immune system. Test tube and animal studies had found that various constituents of echinacea can increase antibody production, raise white blood cell counts, and stimulate the activity of key white blood cells. 3 4 5 6 7 However, most recent studies have tended to cast doubt on this theory. 8 The fact that regular use of echinacea does not appear to help prevent colds (or genital herpes 9 ) also somewhat argues against an immune-strengthening effect. Thus, at present, it can only be said that we don’t understand the means by which echinacea affects cold symptoms.

Echinacea has been proposed for the treatment and/or prevention of other acute infections as well. One small double-blind study found that use of an herbal combination containing echinacea enhanced the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment for acute flare-ups of chronic bronchitis . 10 However, two other studies failed to find benefit for ear infections in children. 11 Finally, echinacea is frequently proposed for general immune support . However, as discussed above there is some reason to think that it is not effective for this purpose.


  1. Dorn M. Plant immunostimulant alleviates symptoms of the common cold. Double-blind study involving 100 patients [translated from German]. Natur und Ganzheitsmedizin. 1989;2:314-319.
  2. Melchart D, Walther E, Linde K, Brandmaier R, Lersch C. Echinacea root extracts for the prevention of upper respiratory tract infections: a double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial. Arch Fam Med. 7(6):541-5.
  3. Bauer R, Wagner H. Echinacea species as potential immunostimulatory drug. Econ Med Plant Res. 1991;5:253-321.
  4. Wagner VH, Proksch A, Riess-Maurer I, et al. Immunostimulating action of polysaccharides (heteroglycans) from higher plants [translated from German]. Arzneimittelforschung. 1985;35:1069-1075.
  5. Stimpel M, Proksch A, Wagner H, et al. Macrophage activation and induction of macrophage cytotoxicity by purified polysaccharide fractions from the plant Echinacea purpurea. Infect Immun. 1984;46:845-849.
  6. Luettig B, Steinmuller C, Gifford GE, et al. Macrophage activation by the polysaccharide arabinogalactan isolated from plant cell cultures of Echinacea purpurea. J Natl Cancer Inst. 1989;81:669-675.
  7. Mose JR. Effect of Echinacin on phagocytosis and natural killer cells [in German; English abstract]. Med Welt. 1983;34:1463-1467.
  8. Vonau B, Chard S, Mandalia S, et al. Does the extract of the plant Echinacea purpurea influence the clinical course of recurrent genital herpes? Int J STD AIDS. 2001;12:154-158.
  9. Vonau B, Chard S, Mandalia S, et al. Does the extract of the plant Echinacea purpurea influence the clinical course of recurrent genital herpes? Int J STD AIDS. 2001;12:154-158.
  10. Hauke W, Kohler G, Henneicke-Von Zepelin HH, et al. Esberitox((R)) N as Supportive Therapy when Providing Standard Antibiotic Treatment in Subjects with a Severe Bacterial Infection (Acute Exacerbation of Chronic Bronchitis). a multicentric, prospective, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Chemotherapy. 2002;48:259-266.
  11. Aldous MB, Wahl R, Worden K, Grant KL. A randomized, controlled trial of cranial osteopathic manipulative treatment and echinacea in children with recurrent otitis media. 2003 Pediatric Academic Societies' Annual Meeting, Seattle, Washington, May 3-6, 2003;abstract 1062.


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