Echinacea has been used for many years to treat a variety of ailments. Here, we discuss the top three uses of Echinacea and safety precautions to consider.
Echinacea, also known as the purple coneflower, is an herbal medicine that has been used for hundreds of years. The mechanism of its action is based on the idea that echinacea may trigger the immune system to fight infection. Below, we discuss the top three uses of Echinacea.
1. Treats wounds and skin problems
Echinacea preparations can be used topically for wounds and skin problems. Most topical Echinacea preparations are watery “pressed juice” or ethanol mixtures and extracts made up of the dried echinacea plant or its roots. These preparations have traditionally been used for a variety of skin disorders, including the following: staph infections, cold sores, ulcers, wounds, burns, insect bites, eczema, allergies, and even rheumatoid arthritis.
Studies with topical Echinacea preparations have demonstrated antiviral and antimicrobial activities and show that they can also potentially be helpful in treating more serious infections, such as genital herpes outbreaks.
2. Helps prevent the common cold
Taking Echinacea before catching a cold may slightly reduce the chances of getting sick. An analysis of 9 studies with 12 comparisons of an Echinacea product and placebo, totalling 1167 patients found that Echinacea products were associated with a lower rate of colds.
However, taking Echinacea after catching a cold has not been proven to shorten the duration of illness. Six out of fifteen studies that focused on the role of Echinacea in treatment trials reported on the duration of cold symptoms, four of which were considered to have a low risk of bias and did not find any associations of Echinacea with decreasing the duration of cold symptoms. The other trials had either a high or unclear risk of bias.
3. Treats upper respiratory infections
A review of 66 published studies that evaluated the use of Echinacea for the management of respiratory tract infections found a considerable amount of evidence for consuming Echinacea products to prevent and treat respiratory tract infections.
In addition, a veterinary study found that the powdered root of Echinacea was a well-tolerated alternative treatment of canine upper respiratory tract infections. This study evaluated 41 dogs with chronic and seasonal upper respiratory tract infections, including pharyngitis/tonsillitis, bronchitis and kennel cough in Switzerland.
Echinacea powder was administered with food once daily for 8 weeks. Even though each dog was at a various stage of the disease, with different symptoms and severities during the beginning of the study, the researchers found that there was a significant improvement for 92% of the dogs after just 4 weeks. This improvement included reductions of severity and resolution of nasal secretions, enlargement of lymph nodes, dry cough, dyspnea and dry lung sounds.
The safety of using Echinacea long-term use is not established, but the most common adverse effects of any Echinacea preparation have been reported to be headache, nausea, as well as a bad taste.
In studies that focused on Echinacea’s role in treatment, the products were associated with a higher rate of adverse effects than placebo (323 of 946 patients receiving Echinacea versus 281 of 863 patients receiving placebo).
On the other hand, studies that focused on how Echinacea can be used for prevention found that there was no association of Echinacea with adverse effects (102 of 868 patients receiving Echinacea versus 65 of 757 patients receiving placebo).
Some people have allergic reactions to Echinacea that may be severe. Children who participated in an Echinacea clinical trial developed rashes, finding an absolute 5% increase in rashes in children. People with a genetic tendency toward allergic reactions may be more likely to have an allergic reaction when taking Echinacea.
In conclusion, there is substantial evidence-based research that supports the consumption of Echinacea for a variety of inflammatory-based conditions. For instance, taking Echinacea may help prevent illnesses and treat conditions such as upper respiratory tract infections, even in dogs.
However, there are various inconclusions regarding the safety profile of Echinacea during long term use and a handful of reports on adverse effects such as rashes in children that recommend caution with its use.
As with most herbal products, there is an unmet need to do more research and compare using Echinacea with alternative preventative measures and treatments. In the meantime, it can be recommended to use Echinacea instead of or in addition to various other therapies to promote anti-inflammatory states.
Written by Tatsiana Verstak, M.S., B.S.
- Daneshmehr MA, Tafazoli A. Providing evidence for use of Echinacea supplements in Hajj pilgrims for management of respiratory tract infections. Complement Ther Clin Pract. 2016 May;23:40-5.
- Hudson JB. Applications of the phytomedicine Echinacea purpurea (Purple Coneflower) in infectious diseases. J Biomed Biotechnol. 2011;2012:769896. doi:10.1155/2012/769896
- Karsch-Völk M, Barrett B, Linde K. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold. JAMA. 2015;313(6):618-619.
- Reichling J, et al. Echinacea powder: treatment for canine chronic and seasonal upper respiratory tract infections. Schweiz Arch Tierheilkd. 2003 May;145(5):223-31.