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Echinacea is thought to support the immune system by activating
white blood cells. Echinacea may also increase production of
interferon, an important part of the body’s response to viral
Parts used and where grown
Echinacea is a wildflower native to North America. While echinacea
continues to grow and is harvested from the wild, the majority used for
herbal supplements comes from cultivated plants. The root and/or the
above-ground part of the plant during the flowering growth phase are
used in herbal medicine.
Historical or traditional use (may or may not be supported by scientific studies)
Echinacea was used by Native Americans for a variety of conditions,
including venomous bites and other external wounds. It was introduced
into US medical practice in 1887 and was touted for use in conditions
ranging from colds to syphilis. Modern research started in the 1930s in
groups of echinacea’s constituents may work together to increase the
production and activity of white blood cells (lymphocytes and
macrophages), including alkylamides/polyacetylenes, caffeic acid
derivatives, and polysaccharides. More studies are needed to determine
if and how echinacea stimulates the immune system in humans.
Several double-blind studies have confirmed the benefit of echinacea
for treating colds and flu. Recent studies have suggested that
echinacea may not be effective for the prevention of colds and flu and
should be reserved for use at the onset of these conditions. In terms
of other types of infections, research in Germany using injectable
forms or an oral preparation of the herb along with a medicated cream
(econazole nitrate) reduced the recurrence of vaginal yeast infections
as compared to women given the cream alone.
How much is usually taken?
onset of a cold or flu, 3 to 4 ml of echinacea in a liquid preparation
or 300 mg of a powdered form in capsule or tablet can be taken every
two hours for the first day of illness, then three times per day for a
total of 7 to 10 days.
Are there any side effects or interactions?
Echinacea is rarely associated with side effects when taken orally.
According to the German Commission E monograph, people should not take
echinacea if they have an autoimmune illness, such as lupus, or other
progressive diseases, such as tuberculosis, multiple sclerosis, or HIV
infection. However, the concern about echinacea use for those with
autoimmune illness is not based on clinical research and some
herbalists question the potential connection. Those who are allergic to
flowers of the daisy family should not take echinacea. Cases of
allergic responses to echinacea (e.g., wheezing, skin rash, diarrhea)
have been reported in medical literature. In the first study to look at
echinacea’s possible effect on fetal development and pregnancy outcome,
women taking echinacea during pregnancy were found to have no greater
incidence of miscarriage or birth defects than women not taking the
Echinacea root contains approximately 20% inulin, a fiber widely
distributed in fruits, vegetables, and plants. Inulin is classified as
a food ingredient (not as an additive) and is considered safe to eat.
In fact, inulin is a significant part of the daily diet of most of the
world’s population. However, there is a report of a 39-year-old man
having a life-threatening allergic reaction after consuming high
amounts of inulin from multiple sources. Allergy to inulin in this
individual was confirmed by laboratory tests. Such sensitivities are
exceedingly rare. Moreover, this man did not take echinacea.
Nevertheless, people with a confirmed sensitivity to inulin should