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Echinacea

Botanical name(s):

Echinacea purpurea, E. angustifolia, E. pallida. Family: Asteraceae

Other name(s):

black sampson, purple coneflower, rudbeckia, sampson root

General description

Echinacea, most commonly known as purple coneflower, is a flowering plant native to North America. The plant is harvested at flowering time; all parts are used except the roots.

Echinacea usually refers to a mix of two plants that exert pharmacological activity: E. angustifolia and E. purpurea. A broad spectrum of chemical compounds (notably caffeic acid glycoside and chicoric acid) in the plants stimulates the immune system and has anti-inflammatory activities.

Medically valid uses

Currently, no clearly documented, valid studies support the use of echinacea related to upper respiratory infections. Studies have shown either no benefit, or only a very small benefit (decreasing the duration of common cold symptoms by a half day) for use in preventing or treating a cold.

Some studies have shown that taking echinacea orally in combination with a topical antifungal cream seems to be effective for preventing recurrent vaginal yeast infections. Findings indicate that this combination lowers recurrence rate to 16.7% compared to 60.5% with antifungal cream alone.

Unsubstantiated claims

Please note that this section reports on claims that have NOT yet been substantiated through scientific studies.

Native Americans used the leaves and roots of the echinacea plant to treat toothaches, snakebites, insect bites, and other skin wounds.

Echinacea is used by many in the belief that it prevents and treats upper-respiratory infections (URIs) and aids in wound healing.

Echinacea has also been used as an anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial agent (helps the body destroy or resist pathogenic microorganisms). Echinacea is claimed to be useful for treating fever, colic, coughs, bronchitis, urinary tract infections, sore throats, and flu.

Dosing format

Echinacea is available in many forms, including fresh, freeze-dried, dried, alcohol-based extract, liquid, tincture, tea, capsules, and salve.

Echinacea should not be injected or administered intravenously in pregnant women, people with diabetes, or people with allergies.

Side effects, toxicity, and interactions

Fever, nausea, and vomiting can occur when using echinacea.

These are contraindications for use: 

  • Do not use echinacea in any form if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

  • Do not use echinacea if you have a progressive systemic disease such as tuberculosis, collagen vascular disease such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or multiple sclerosis.

  • Do not use echinacea if you are allergic to plants in the sunflower family.

  • Do not inject or take echinacea intravenously if you have diabetes.

There are no known significant food or drug interactions associated with echinacea.

Additional information

Click here for a list of reputable websites with general information on nutrition.