We talk a lot about various supplements, vitamins, herbs, and ingredients here that can do a variety of things for your body, from boosting your immune system to giving you more energy to helping you sleep better. We could probably go on and on due to the sheer number of remedies out there. Just when we think we covered them all, there's another buzzy ingredient making an appearance in the wellness world spotlight. Because there are so many, we, of course, have to figure out if their supposed benefits really stack up. It's fun being wellness detectives, everyone!
One ingredient that you've probably heard of but may not know much about is echinacea. Prior to doing research for this article, I knew that echinacea was supposed to be good for the body. I knew it was in various supplements and tinctures. But I honestly had no idea what its benefits were or if I should be incorporating it into my wellness routine.
So I did the detective work for all of us, and here's what I found.
What Is Echinacea?
Well, it turns out echinacea is an immune system booster. "Echinacea, also known as coneflower, is a North American flowering plant that is part of the daisy family," explains Sarah Rueven, MS, RDN, CDN, founder of Rooted Wellness. "It is known to have immune-boosting properties and has historically been used as an herbal remedy to protect against the common cold."
In addition to protecting and treating the common cold, it helps with bronchitis, upper respiratory infections, and some inflammatory conditions, adds Erica Zellner, MS, CNS, senior health coach at Parsley Health. "It's high in antioxidants (molecules that help your body fight oxidative stress), including flavonoids, cichoric acid, and rosmarinic acid," Zellner says.
As we learned above, echinacea's main benefit is its support of the immune system. "Echinacea has numerous proven benefits and has been used in healing for centuries, but it is now most widely used and known for its immune system–stimulating capabilities," explains Serena Poon, CN, CHC, CHN, chef, nutritionist, Reiki master, and founder of the Culinary Alchemy program. "Researchers believe that echinacea is one of the top herbs for immune support. It is recommended to take echinacea regularly over longer periods to prevent respiratory illnesses like the common cold and flu."
2. It's Anti-Inflammatory
"Echinacea contains many different types of antioxidants, which may exert an anti-inflammatory effect within the body," Rueven says.
Zellner says there is evidence that echinacea in topical form is useful for common skin conditions like acne and eczema. "Scientists believe that the benefit comes from echinacea's anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties," she says. "Unfortunately, echinacea extract has a relatively short shelf life, making it difficult to incorporate into skincare products."
"Research has also found this plant to have anti-inflammatory, antiviral, antibacterial, antimicrobial, antitumor, larvicidal, antioxidant, and mood-boosting properties," Poon says. "Traditionally, echinacea has been used to combat an array of conditions and diseases, from toothaches, bowel pain, snake bites, and skin disorders to chronic arthritis and cancer."
In general, most people can take and tolerate echinacea without any problems. "However, people with allergies to flowers in the same family (such as daisies, ragweed, and chrysanthemums) are likely to have a reaction to echinacea," Zellner says. "It also may not be appropriate for individuals with autoimmune disorders or taking immunosuppressive drugs. In these instances, it's best to speak with your doctor before trying echinacea. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to conceive, it's best to speak with your doctor before trying echinacea. Preliminary studies indicate relative safety, but more research is needed."
Side effects are rare, but that doesn't mean they don't exist. "It is possible to experience nausea or stomach pain or possibly allergic reaction, rash, itching, hives, or difficulty breathing," Poon explains. "You would want to stop taking echinacea immediately if you experience any of these side effects."
You don't have to take it every day like you would some vitamins and supplements. "For adults, short-term usage of echinacea is thought to be safe. However, the long-term usage of echinacea has not been studied nor proven to be safe," Rueven says. "Use echinacea during cold and flu season, before experiencing symptoms, as a preventative measure to avoid getting sick."
Echinacea can be easily found in grocery stores, pharmacies, and health-food stores. Zellner says it comes in many forms, including tinctures, dried herbs, capsules, and teas. "There is currently no official dose recommendation for echinacea. However, research has suggested that 300 to 500 mg of powder extract tid (three times daily) is effective in aiding immunity and 2.5 ml tid for tinctures," she says. "It is important to note that these recommendations are best used as a short-term intervention, as we do not have long-term studies to support ongoing use."
When choosing a product, you'll want to do as much research as you can into the brand and the product itself. "You want to buy from a brand that you can trust and who offers transparency around their sourcing," Poon suggests. "Choose ingredient labels that are simple and avoid added fillers, sugars, and artificial coloring."
Zellner recommends looking for formulations that include E. purpurea and/or E. angustifolia. Of the nine species of echinacea, she says that these two are the most commonly studied and used for healing.
Take a look at some echinacea products below, sourced by our editors.
The Nue Co.'s Defense Drops are formulated to boost your immunity—the brand recommends taking them when your throat feels scratchy or when you just know you might be getting sick. In addition to echinacea, it contains Schisandra berry, rosemary, citric acid, and mistletoe.
This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be used in the place of advice of your physician or other medical professionals. You should always consult with your doctor or healthcare provider first with any health-related questions. See our full health disclaimer here.