Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Cold, Flu, & Cough Health Center

Font Size

Echinacea Mildly Effective in Treating Colds

Study Shows Echinacea Only Reduced Sniffles and Cold Symptoms by a Half Day at Most
By Katrina Woznicki
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

Dec. 20, 2010 -- Despite its popularity as a natural remedy for treating the common cold, a new study suggests echinacea does not substantially reduce the severity or duration of the common cold.

Investigators led by Bruce Barrett, MD, PhD, an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, studied 719 children, women, and men ages 12 to 80 who lived in Wisconsin. Twelve percent of the group were smokers; the average age was around 33. Sixty-four percent of the group were female and 88% were white.

The study participants were randomly assigned to either not take anything for their cold, take a pill containing echinacea, or take a placebo pill. Some of the patients were told what they were taking and some were not told. Patients had to record their symptoms twice a day over the course of no more than two weeks.

Overall, patients taking echinacea experienced a slightly reduced duration of their cold of about seven to 10 hours less than those not taking echinacea. Their colds were also slightly less severe. However, the researchers note that they can’t rule out whether these mild improvements were the result of chance or other factors.

The investigators also measured levels of immune cell activity from nasal wash samples provided by the participants. The samples did not show any significant differences between those who took echinacea and those who didn’t, suggesting there wasn’t a major effect on the immune system.

“The pharmacological activity of Echinacea probably has only a small beneficial effect in persons with the common cold,” Barrett and his team write. “Individual choices about whether to use Echinacea to treat the common cold should be guided by personal health values and preferences, as well as by limited evidence available."

The study was funded by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health, and the findings are published in the Dec. 20 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

Echinacea has long been touted for its properties in fighting upper respiratory infection. Evidence about its effectiveness has been mixed. Acute upper respiratory infection is one of the top 10 most expensive illnesses in the U.S., according to the researchers, resulting in an economic cost of $40 billion per year, as well as 20 million doctor visits and 40 million lost school days and workdays.

Today on WebMD

hot toddy
15 tips to help you feel better.
man sneezing into elbow
Do echinacea and vitamin C really help a cold?
teen girl coughing
Get a good night’s rest with these remedies.
elder berry
Eat these to fight colds, flu, and more.
Natural Cold Flu Remedies Slideshow
cold weather
Allergy And Sinus Symptom Evaluator
Boy holding ear
woman receiving vaccine shot
woman with fever
Waking up from sleep
woman with sore throat