What Is It?
Health Benefits
Dosage Information
Guidelines for Use
General Interaction
Possible Side Effects
Evidence Based Rating Scale

What Is It?

One of the most popular herbal remedies in the western world, echinacea was commonly used by Native Americans for treating a variety of conditions. Medical practitioners in the United States started using echinacea in the 1800's. In the early 1900's German clinicians and researchers started integrating it into their practices and studying its effects. For most of the 20th century, this native plant was usd more in Europe than in the U.S. In more recent history, however it continues to be one of the top selling herbs in Europe and the U.S.

Active ingredients from the plant are thought to fight colds, flu, and other infections. There are nine species of this herb, commonly called the purple coneflower, but just three (Echinacea angustifolia, E. pallida, and E. purpurea) are used medicinally. Various parts of the plant (flowers, leaves, stems, or roots) from a variety of species appear in literally hundreds of commercial preparations. Depending on the species and plant part used, the herb will stimulate the immune system and combat bacteria, viruses, and other disease-causing microbes.

Health Benefits

Both safe and powerful, echinacea stimulates various immune system cells that are key weapons against infection. The herb also helps boost the cells' production of a virus-fighting substance called interferon, and has been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. One interesting study showed that Echinacea extract produced different effects on cells depending on whether the cells were infected with the cold virus. In cells infected with the cold virus, echinacea stimulted the production of less inflammatory chemical markers. In contrast, in helathy cells, echinacea extract promoted increased production of inflammatory chemicals. What this means for us, is that if you have a cold, echinacea may decrease your symptoms becasue many cold symptons are actually attributable to the body's inflammatory response to the invading virus. Conversely, if you aren't under attack by a virus, echinacea boosts the chemicals that help ward off infection. It is because of these immune boosting properties that you shoudl not take echinacea for long periods of time. This is also why echninacea is not recommended for those suffering from auto-immune disorders.

Specifically, echinacea may help to:

· Prevent the onset of colds and other respiratory illness. For many years doctors recommended that people take echincae continuously for 3 - 6 weeks during cold season to ward off illness. More recent research has shown that echinacea is most effective when taken in short bursts to prevent infection. For example, take echinacea the day before and the day of air travel. This will help give your body that additional boost to fight off any airborne virus that may be living in such confined spaces.

· Reduce duration of colds, flu, and sore throat. If started when you first get the sneezing, aches, congestion, or fever common to colds or flu, echinacea may cause these symptoms to be less severe and to subside sooner (1-3). However not all Echinacea extracts provide this benefit. A review of 16 studies found that Echinacea purpurea preparations made from the aerial parts of the plant were more effective at preventing the onset of colds (4). Proprietary preparations have also proven effective in stimulating the immune system and fighting colds (5, 6). A study on 437 volunteers taking an extract of echinacea angustifolia demonstrated no efficacy in preventing or treating colds (7). Ask your doctor for his/ her recommendations regarding the most efficacious preparation to treat your particular symptom profile.  

·  Fight recurrent respiratory infections, such as bronchitis, sinusitis, strep throat, and earache. The herb's immune-boosting properties make it particularly helpful for fighting chronic upper respiratory infections in adults and children. In a study of 524 children between the ages of 2 and 11 conducted during the winter months of 2000 – 2002, researchers found that  the children who took Echinacea after the occurrence of the first upper respiratory tract infection, experienced 28% less recurrent infections (8). For best results, take echinacea at the first sign of illness.

·  Combat vaginal yeast and urinary tract infections. As an immune-booster, echinacea can be particularly helpful for fighting these recurrent infections (9). For yeast infections, the herb seems to stimulate white blood cells to destroy the yeast. Urinary tract infections can be helped by consuming extra fluids, including immune-boosting echinacea tea, which helps wash away the bacteria.

·  Promote healing of skin wounds and inflammations, including canker sores, burns, and cuts and scrapes. As a natural antibiotic and infection fighter, echinacea promotes the healing of all kinds of skin irritations, including burns, cuts and scrapes, boils, abscesses, canker sores, and eczema, as well as herpes infections (including genital herpes, cold sores, and shingles). More research It can be applied topically to a wound or be taken internally to strengthen the immune system.

·  Treat chronic fatigue syndrome. Echinacea is currently being studied as a possible treatment for chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition marked by profound and persistent exhaustion. One theory holds that this mysterious disorder represents the body's response to a past viral infection that managed to permanently weaken the immune system. By bolstering the immune system and fighting any further viral (or bacterial) presence, echinacea may help those who suffer from this disorder.

·  Build immunity during cancer treatments and possibly protect against certain forms of cancer. Although not a traditional use of this plant, since researchers discovered its immune enhacing properties, some people have started integrating echinacea into their cancer treatment plan. Rotating echinacea with extracts of medicinal mushrooms may help to strengthen overall immunity during cancer treatments. Animal studies in mice have shown that regular supplementation with Echinacea may help to prevent the immune related disorders associated with aging (10). Since mice and humans share 97% of our genetic code researchers are excited about the potential of applying these research findings to humans (11).  Much more research is needed to fully define echinacea’s possible role in fighting cancer in humans.

Note: Echinacea has also been found to be useful for a number of other disorders. For information on these additional ailments, see our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Echinacea.


  • tincture
  • tablet
  • softgel
  • lozenge
  • liquid
  • dried herb/tea
  • capsule

Dosage Information

Special tips:

  • For maximum effect, take echinacea in liquid form--either as a fresh-pressed juice (standardized to contain 2.4% beta-1, 2-fructofuranosides) or as an alcohol-based tincture (containing a 5:1 concentration of the herb). This gets the medicine directly to where it needs to act. Good quality echinacea has a numbing effect on the throat. Many medicinal herb companies take advantage of this fact, packaging echinacea in small spray bottles. 
  • If unable to tolerate the liquid form, try standardized extracts in pill form. Look for pills containing at least 3.5% echinacosides, the active ingredient.

  • The various echinacea products available--capsules, tablets, juice, fluid extract--commonly contain echinacea made from either a single or mixed species. Check the label carefully to ensure that the species--and the plant part--you need is present in the product you select. Use the following as a guide:

  • For long-term use as a general immune-booster: Take supplements made from the whole plant (the roots and leaves) of E. angustifolia. To get the maximum benefit, alternate echinacea (200 mg twice a day) with other immune-enhancing herbs such as goldenseal, astragalus, pau d'arco, or maitake, reishi, and/or shiitake mushrooms. Pick two of these other herbs, use each one for a week, and then return to echinacea every third week. This practice is good for chronic fatigue sufferers and for those who want to boost immunity during cancer treatments.

  • For cold and flu prevention: Take 200 mg a day, preferably from supplements made from the above-ground plant of E. purpurea and the root of E. pallida. Or try rotating echinacea in three-week cycles with astragalus (500 mg a day), a Chinese herb that acts on the immune system in a way similar to echinacea.

  • For sore throat: To lessen the symptoms, a high dose is necessary: Take 200 mg four or five times a day. For immediate sore throat relief, add 1 teaspoon echinacea tincture to 1/2 cup warm water, gargle, and swallow four or five time a day until the pain subsides. Select supplements made from the above-ground plant of E. purpurea and the root of E. pallida.

  • For chronic bronchitis: Take 200 mg twice a day. Select supplements made from the above-ground plant of E. purpurea and the root of E. pallida.

  • For earache: Take 200 mg three times a day. Use in a cycle of three weeks on, one week off for recurrent infections. Select supplements made from the above-ground plant of E. purpurea and the root of E. pallida.

  • For vaginal yeast infections: Take 200 mg three times a day. Use in a cycle of three weeks on, one week off for recurrent infections. Select supplements made from the above-ground plant of E. purpurea and the root of E. pallida.

  • For urinary tract infections: Drink 1 cup of echinacea tea several times a day. Select supplements made from the above-ground plant of E. purpurea and the root of E. pallida. To make the tea, use 2 teaspoons echinacea for each 8-ounce cup of very hot (not boiling) water. Steep for 15 minutes and strain. Sweeten to taste with honey, if desired.

  • For skin wounds and inflammation: Add 3 drops of liquid extract to 1 teaspoon of water and apply to the wound. Or take 200 mg three times a day to prevent infection. Select supplements made from the above-ground plant of E. purpurea and the root of E. pallida.

  • For canker sores: Take 200 mg three times a day at the first sign of a sore. Begin taking echinacea at the higher dose and reduce the dosage as the sore heals. For prevention, take 200 mg each morning for three weeks of each month. Select supplements made from the above-ground plant of E. purpurea and the root of E. pallida.

Be sure to check out our Dosage Recommendations Chart for Echinacea, which lists therapeutic dosages for specific ailments at a glance.

Guidelines for Use

  • Use echinacea alone for no longer than two weeks, followed by a one-week rest period before you start taking it again. With continuous use, the herb's immunity-enhancing effects begin to decrease. Starting and stopping echinacea, or rotating it with goldenseal and the other herbs mentioned above, may maximize its effectiveness.

  • Although you can take echinacea with or without food, some people experrience nausea or loose stools when taken on an empty stomach. 

  • General Interaction

    There are no known drug or nutrient interactions associated with echinacea.

    Possible Side Effects

  • At recommended doses, echinacea has no known side effects. However, people who are allergic to flowers in the daisy family, which also includes ragweed, chrysanthemums, and marigolds, may be allergic to echinacea as well.

  • Cautions

  • Echinacea is not a replacement for antibiotics or other infection-fighting drugs, but it can be used to complement them.

  • Because echinacea could, in theory at least, overstimulate the immune system, it could worsen the condition of lupus, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune disorders. Consult your doctor before taking the herb if you suffer from any of these disorders.

  • Don't take echinacea for progressive infections such as tuberculosis.
  • Evidence Based Rating Scale

    The Evidence Based Rating Scale is a tool that helps consumers translate the findings of medical research studies with what our clinical advisors have found to be efficacious in their personal practice. This tool is meant to simplify which supplements demonstrate promise in the treatment of certain conditions. This scale does not take into account any possible interactions with any medication/ condition/ or therapy which you may be currently undertaking. It is therefore advisable to ask your doctor before starting any new treatment regimen.

    Supplement/ Therapy






    bronchitis/ sinusitis/ upper respiratory tract infections








    Large studies have shown benefit in reducing the frequency of illness in children.





    burns/ canker sores/ cuts/ scrapes






    May have benefit in boosting the immune system after compromise. Can be applied topically as well as taken orally.






    colds/ flu







    Conflicting evidence of benefit. May help prevent and shorten the duration of colds and flu. Ask your doctor for a recommendation in purchasing a reputable brand/ formulation.  










    Date Published: 07/25/2010
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