Health Benefits of Echinacea

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on July 03, 2023
4 min read

Echinacea, also known as coneflower, is a purple flower commonly grown in the woods and fields of North America. Native Americans in the United States' midwest have been using echinacea as a medicinal herb for over 400 years. The Great Plains Indians used echinacea for various problems, from toothaches to snakebites. Explorers Lewis and Clark even learned about the plant's health benefits on their voyages and shipped echinacea seeds back to President Jefferson in the 1800s.

The echinacea plant is still in use today as a dietary supplement. There are nine species of echinacea, but only two of them, Echinacea purpurea and Echinacea angustifolia, are commonly used in supplements. Although echinacea supplements are most commonly found in pill form, the plant can also be found in teas, juices, and creams.

Echinacea contains several chemicals that may provide health benefits. Researchers believe that two chemicals in particular, polysaccharides and glycoproteins, boost your body's immune system. Your immune system helps you fight off germs that cause infection.

Can you get echinacea naturally from foods?

There are no natural food sources of echinacea.


Although there is no strong evidence that echinacea has health benefits in any area, echinacea is most commonly used to treat colds. Some early research shows that echinacea supplements may have broader health benefits as well.

Prevents the common cold

Echinacea may strengthen your body's immune system, helping you fight colds and flus caused by viruses or bacteria. Some research shows that the echinacea plant contains chemicals that help your body create white blood cells. When your upper respiratory tract (nose, mouth, and throat) becomes infected, these white blood cells work within your immune system to fight infection.

However, a 2014 study reviewing 24 other studies reported only weak evidence that echinacea supplements actually treat colds. Although echinacea may help treat colds, it is not proven that it will make your cold go away faster.

Treats infection

Echinacea may play a role in fighting off various infections. Some data shows that echinacea can treat urinary tract infections, ear infections, and wounds or cuts that are slow to heal. Although sometimes echinacea may help minor infections disappear, you should see your doctor if the problem continues.

Treats eczema 

For people with eczema, an inflammation of the skin, cream containing echinacea extract may help. Early research shows that daily use of echinacea cream helped soothe irritation caused by eczema and helped build up the protective outer layer of skin. However, it's too soon to know if echinacea helps eczema in most people.

Be mindful of possible allergic reactions, as people with eczema commonly have allergies and asthma.

Echinacea may offer health benefits and usually does not cause side effects. However, in some cases, using echinacea supplements may carry some risk.

Interactions with other medications

People taking medications that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants) should not take echinacea, as echinacea supplements may interfere with the medication. This includes people with tuberculosis, leukemia, diabetes, HIV or AIDS, and any other autoimmune disease and those who have received organ transplants.

Allergic reactions

Although it is rare, echinacea will cause allergic reactions. Reactions may be mild, but in severe cases, echinacea can cause anaphylaxis (a life-threatening reaction). People who have asthma or other allergies are at high risk, especially those who are allergic to plants in the daisy family. If you have allergies or asthma, talk to your doctor before taking echinacea.

Side effects

When taken at normal doses, echinacea causes few side effects. Some people have reported symptoms such as upset stomach, headache, sore throat, drowsiness, and rash.

There is no standard recommended dose for echinacea because echinacea supplements come in many forms, such as pills, juices, or creams. Follow all directions on the product label, or ask your doctor before using. Do not take echinacea for more than 2 weeks unless advised by your doctor. If your supplements cause an upset stomach, take it with food and water.

Some echinacea supplements have higher doses than others. Always check supplement formulations with your doctor to make sure the dosages in them are appropriate for you.

Buy echinacea products made by reputable companies. Talk to your doctorto select a trustworthy source of echinacea.

How much echinacea should you take?

Recommended dosages of echinacea differ widely depending on the product. The most commonly used preparation in the U.S. is a liquid extract of E. purpurea root; typical dosing of such a preparation would be 3 milliliters every 3-4 hours for the first 1-2 days of upper respiratory illness, then three times daily for the subsequent week. Patients who are using echinacea tea (made from E. angustifolia or E. purpurea root) will need to take higher dosages, typically 6-8 ounces four times daily for the first 2 days, titrating down to once or twice daily on days 3-7.