Echinacea – what you need to know

Echinacea – what you need to know

Author -  Vicki Martin, Nutritionist and Naturopath

Naturopath Vicki Martin summarises what you need to know about Echinacea – a natural remedy for common cold and flu

Echinacea is a herb and a natural remedy that has been used to fight colds and infections for many centuries. It was originally used by Native American healers to help heal external wounds. Today, many experts recommend using it for colds and flu, and it is now one of the most popular immunity supplements in the western world.

Echinacea Uses

Many people take Echinacea to help boost their immunity. So far, evidence suggests that it may help to reduce the length of a cold and the severity of cold symptoms. Echinacea seems to support the immune system by activating white blood cells. It may also increase production of “interferon” – an important part of how the body responds to and fights off viral infections. Some studies suggest that Echinacea may slightly reduce flu symptoms and recurrent vaginal yeast infections (“thrush”).

Echinacea Effectiveness

Echinacea seems to be most effective if you start it as soon as you notice symptoms, then take it for 7-10 days. It works well if you combine it with Vitamin C and Zinc.

Echinacea Supplement Information

Keep supplements containing Echinacea in a cool, dry place away from humidity and direct sunlight.

Echinacea Cautions

  • Side effects: If you take it at normal doses, Echinacea causes few side effects. People with sensitivities or allergies to Echinacea can experience symptoms like an upset stomach, headache, sore throat, drowsiness, and rash. If you have asthma or an allergy to certain plants and flowers (e.g ragweed, chrysanthemums, marigolds, or daisies) be cautious when using Echinacea. 
  • Cautions: Check with your doctor before using Echinacea if you have any kind of autoimmune disease (e.g. lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or multiple sclerosis), or if you have HIV.
  • Interactions: As with all natural supplements, if you take any prescribed medication, talk to your doctor before you start using Echinacea. 
  • Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: You can safely take Echinacea during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Children can also take Echinacea safely. 
Longe JL ed, The Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, second edition, 2004.
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center web site: "About Herbs: Echinacea."
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine web site: "Herbs at a Glance: Echinacea."