Health Benefits of Echinacea

Medically Reviewed by Zilpah Sheikh, MD on June 03, 2024
9 min read

Echinacea, also known as coneflower, is a purple flower that commonly grows in the woods and fields of North America. Native Americans in the  midwestern part of the U.S. have been using it 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 its seeds back to President Jefferson in the 1800s.

The echinacea plant is still in use today as a dietary supplement. There are nine species, 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 immune system. Your immune system helps you fight off germs that cause infection.

Echinacea is mostly used to treat colds. Some early research shows that active ingredients in echinacea and supplements made from it may have broader health benefits as well.

May strengthen the immune system

Echinacea may strengthen your 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.

But other studies have reported only weak evidence that echinacea supplements actually treat colds. It's also not proven that echinacea will make your cold go away faster.

May fight infections

Echinacea may play a role in fighting off various infections, including upper respiratory tract infections. Some data shows that echinacea can treat urinary tract infections, ear infections, and wounds or cuts that are slow to heal. 

To stimulate your immune system in general while you have a cold, flu, or upper respiratory or bladder infections, you can try to take echinacea three times a day until your symptoms improve, for a maximum of 10 days.

Although sometimes echinacea may help with minor infections, you should see your doctor if the problem continues.

May treat eczema 

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

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

May help improve skin health

Echinacea in topical products may help treat minor wounds and skin problems.

A recent study also suggests that taking a dietary supplement containing echinacea extract and other active ingredients may help reduce acne in people with mild to moderate acne when used with other acne treatments. It may also help in managing acne-prone skin.

Echinacea contains active substances like cichoric acid that may help with skin concerns such as aging, hydration, wrinkling, and skin damage from UVA rays.

May reduce inflammation

Inflammation is your body’s way of fighting off an irritant, like pathogens, damaged cells, toxic materials, or injury. It helps your body heal. But sometimes, this defense system can cause harm instead when it works against the body or for longer than it should.

Echinacea is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, along with other health-supporting effects. For this reason, researchers suggest it may help treat many health conditions, including those tied to inflammation. Some of its potential benefits include:

  • Relieving swollen gums
  • Soothing a sore throat
  • Reducing skin inflammation
  • Treating stomach problems
  • Reducing acne 
  • Treating upper respiratory infections
  • Easing cold and flu symptoms
  • Promoting healing in slow-healing wounds
  • Reducing inflammation and pain in knee osteoarthritis, a joint disease

May help with anxiety

Researchers are also studying the anxiety-reducing effects of echinacea. 

One recent study showed that taking 40 to 80 milligrams of echinacea extract every day for 6 weeks helped as well as a placebo (a medicine with no active ingredients that's used in studies to compare how well a substance works) in reducing anxiety symptoms in adults with mild to moderate anxiety. 

But the study highlighted that it may be more helpful for improving depression symptoms and emotional well-being, compared to the placebo.

In another study, researchers found that taking 40 milligrams of echinacea twice a day for 7 days, followed by a 3-week break, worked better to ease anxiety symptoms than a placebo. The study also found that echinacea had mild, rare side effects.

Echinacea for COVID-19

Recent research has shown that echinacea extract has antiviral effects, which may protect against many viruses that affect the respiratory system, including coronaviruses. 

This extract helps the body produce IFN-γ, which is involved in immune function and controlling inflammatory chemicals. So, supplements containing echinacea extract may help prevent how often a person gets the coronavirus, manage their COVID-19 symptoms, and speed up recovery. 

Another study found that a supplement with echinacea as its main ingredient could be a safe and easy way to reduce the risk of getting sick from COVID-19 and other respiratory infections. It may also help reduce how much virus a person has when they have an infection. 

But more research is needed to confirm these findings.

When taken at regular doses, echinacea causes few side effects. Some people have reported symptoms such as: 

  • Upset stomach
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Drowsiness
  • Rash
  • Nausea 
  • Stomach pain
  • Feeling sick
  • Constipation

Some other possible adverse effects of echinacea are:

Interactions with other medications

People taking medications that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants) should not take echinacea supplements, as they 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 may cause an allergic reaction. 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.

Is echinacea safe for your liver?

Echinacea is generally safe, but there have been rare reports of it leading to liver injury.

Researchers are unsure how echinacea might cause liver injury. They believe it may happen when an echinacea supplement has other harmful ingredients in it or has been mislabeled. Liver issues may also happen when a person is hypersensitive to echinacea.

See a doctor right away and stop taking supplements or herbs that have echinacea if you start having symptoms like:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Dark urine 

It is generally safe for most adults to take echinacea by mouth. But researchers are still looking into how safe it is to take it for a long time. 

There isn’t enough research on how safe it is to take echinacea when you’re pregnant or breastfeeding. Talk to your doctor before taking echinacea or any other supplement, herb, or medicine. 

Also, talk to your doctor first before considering taking echinacea if you have certain health conditions, including:

  • Tuberculosis
  • Leukemia 
  • Diabetes
  • Connective tissue disorders
  • Multiple sclerosis 
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Autoimmune diseases
  • Liver disorders 
  • Kidney diseases
  • Cancer
  • Lung or breathing problems
  • Any allergies

Echinacea might cause medications that suppress the immune system not to work as well as they should. Don’t take any product containing echinacea if you’re taking these medications.

You can take echinacea in many forms. You can use it to make tea, take it as a supplement or herbs, or apply creams with echinacea to your body. 

Talk with your doctor before taking echinacea, especially if you have any health conditions or are taking medications.

How to make echinacea tea

To make echinacea tea, you can use dried or fresh echinacea roots, leaves, or flowers. 

  • Boil water for 5 minutes.
  • Add 1 gram of dried or fresh echinacea roots, leaves, or flowers to a paper dip bag.
  • Put the tea bag in a cup of boiling water and let it brew for 5 minutes. 
  • Remove the paper bag, and drink the tea when you’re ready. 

Echinacea supplements

Echinacea supplements have echinacea as a main ingredient. Makers of these say it may help:

  • Improve cold symptoms
  • Your body fight infections
  • Support your immune system 

You can get echinacea supplements over the counter at a drugstore or from a licensed online retailer.

Echinacea tinctures

Echinacea tinctures are liquid medicines made by soaking echinacea in alcohol. This process extracts many compounds from the plant, each with unique properties.

You don’t have to make echinacea tinctures yourself. You can buy them at health food stores or from trusted retailers  online. 

There is no standard recommended dose for echinacea because echinacea supplements come in many forms, such as pills, juices, and creams. Some echinacea supplements have higher doses than others. Always check supplement formulations with your doctor to make sure the dosages in them are right for you.

Follow all directions on the product label, and don't take echinacea for more than 10 days unless advised by your doctor. Take it with food or plenty of water, but never on an empty stomach.

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

How much echinacea should you take?

Recommended dosages of echinacea differ widely, depending on the product. Older research notes a dosage of up to 10 milliliters of liquid extract of Echinacea purpurea and up to 900 milligrams of various dry, powdered forms of echinacea can help prevent and treat a cold.

New studies have tested dosages of up to 6 grams daily for up to 4 months. 

In order to boost your immune system when you have a cold, flu, or upper respiratory or bladder infections, you can try taking echinacea three times a day until your symptoms improve, for a maximum of 10 days.

It's important to talk to your doctor before you begin taking echinacea or any other supplement, as they can interact with some of your current medications. Also, it's key to read the label of the supplement and follow the recommended dosage.

The long-term effects of taking these supplements has not been tested; don't take echinacea for longer than a few weeks.

Echinacea may help with skin health, infection symptoms, and anxiety and depression, among other benefits. You can take the fresh or dried plant as a tea, supplement, juice, or tincture. While echinacea is generally safe, talk to your doctor before you use it, especially if you have a health condition or are taking medicines.

What are the benefits of taking echinacea? Echinacea may help support your immune system and fight infections, flu, and colds. But more evidence is needed to confirm these benefits.

Is it OK to take echinacea every day? It’s probably safe for you to take echinacea every day, but only for a short time. Researchers don’t know much about echinacea's benefits, safety, and risks of taking it daily for a long time. Talk to your doctor before taking echinacea every day. 

How does echinacea support better health? Echinacea may help your body heal faster after an infection and reduce your risk of falling sick from an infection.

What should you avoid when taking echinacea? Avoid taking echinacea on an empty stomach. If you’re taking medicines, talk to your doctor before using echinacea.