Latin Names – Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia
There are nine known species of echinacea, all of which are native to the United States and southern Canada. The most commonly used as an herbal remedy is Echinacea purpurea. The above ground parts of the plant and roots of echinacea are used fresh or dried to make teas, squeezed (expressed) juice, extracts, or preparations for external use.
Echinacea has traditionally been used as an herbal remedy for colds and flu. Echinacea is the subject of research interest as to whether it can help stimulate the immune system to help fight infections. Less commonly, echinacea has been used as an herbal remedy in the hope of improving skin problems, such as acne or boils.
Study results are mixed on whether echinacea effectively treats colds or flu. For example, two NCCAM-funded studies did not find a benefit from echinacea, either as Echinacea purpurea fresh-pressed juice for treating colds in children, or as an unrefined mixture of Echinacea angustifolia root and Echinacea purpurea root and herb in adults. However, other studies have shown that echinacea may be beneficial in treating upper respiratory infections.
Most studies to date indicate that echinacea does not appear to prevent colds or other infections.
Side Effects and Cautions
- Some people experience allergic reactions to echinacea, including rashes, increased asthma, and anaphylaxis (a life-threatening allergic reaction). In clinical trials, gastrointestinal side effects were most common.
- People are more likely to experience allergic reactions to echinacea if they are allergic to related plants in the daisy family, which includes ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, and daisies. Also, people with asthma or atopy (a genetic tendency toward allergic reactions) may be more likely to have an allergic reaction when taking echinacea.
- Tell your health care providers about any complementary and alternative practices you use. Give them a full picture of what you do to manage your health to help ensure coordinated and safe care. Complementary or alternative therapy should not be used in place of conventional medical care or to delay seeking that care.
- Barrett BP, Brown RL, Locken K, et al. Treatment of the common cold with unrefined echinacea: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2002;137(12):939–946.
- Echinacea. Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database Web site. Accessed June 29, 2007.
- Echinacea (E. angustifolia DC, E. pallida, E. purpurea). Natural Standard Database Web site. Accessed June 28, 2007.
- Echinacea. In: Blumenthal M, Goldberg A, Brinckman J, eds. Herbal Medicine: Expanded Commission E Monographs. Newton, MA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2000:88–102.
- Fugh-Berman A. Echinacea for the prevention and treatment of upper respiratory infections. Seminars in Integrative Medicine. 2003;1(2):106–111.
- Taylor JA, Weber W, Standish L, et al. Efficacy and safety of echinacea in treating upper respiratory tract infections in children: a randomized controlled trial. Journal of the American Medical Association. 2003;290(21):2824–2830.
For More Information
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) Clearinghouse
The NCCAM Clearinghouse provides information on CAM and NCCAM, including publications and searches of Federal databases of scientific and medical literature. The Clearinghouse does not provide medical advice, treatment recommendations, or referrals to practitioners.
NIH Office of Dietary Supplements
Web site: ods.od.nih.gov
NIH National Library of Medicine’s MedlinePlus
Echinacea Listing: www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/natural/patient-echinacea.html
Source: National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, Echinacea fact sheet Created July 2005, Updated March 2008