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.
Echinacea was used by Native Americans for a variety of conditions, including venomous bites and other external wounds. It was introduced into U.S. medical practice in 1887 and was touted for use in conditions ranging from colds to syphilis. Modern research started in the 1930s in Germany.
Echinacea is thought to support the immune system by activating white blood cells. Three major groups of 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.
Echinacea has been used in connection with the following conditions:
Common cold/sore throat (for symptoms)
Gingivitis (periodontal disease) (as mouthwash, in combination with sage, peppermint oil, menthol, chamomile tincture, myrrh tincture, clove oil, and caraway oil)
Echinacea may also increase production of interferon, an important part of the body's response to viral infections. Several double-blind studies have confirmed the benefit of echinacea for treating colds and flu. 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.
Echinacea Side Effects
Echinacea is rarely associated with side effects when taken orally. Those who are allergic to flowers of the daisy family should not take echinacea. Although rare, cases of allergic responses to echinacea (e.g., wheezing, skin rash, diarrhea) have been reported in medical literature.
Stop taking echinacea and seek emergency medical attention if you experience symptoms of a serious allergic reaction including difficulty breathing; closing of your throat; swelling of your lips, tongue, or face; or hives.