Echinacea

Echinacea is a natural plant product said to prevent or treat colds and flu.

What is echinacea?

Echinacea is a species of plant, commonly known as 'coneflower'.

  • Traditionally echinacea has been used for preventing and treating colds and flu.  
  • It is thought to stimulate the immune system.
  • In New Zealand echinacea is not registered as a medicine but is considered a complimentary and alternative medicine.

What is echinacea used for?

Echinacea is marketed for the relief of symptoms of cold and flu, such as sore throat and cough.

Does echinacea work?

The scientific evidence around the use of echinacea is weak.

  • A Cochrane systematic review of 24 studies with 4631 participants, testing a range of echinacea preparations, found a weak preventative benefit for the common cold, no reduction in illness occurrence and no reduction in the duration of the common cold. (1)
  • The authors recommendation for consumers and clinicians is to be aware that the available echinacea products differ greatly.
  • Most of these products have not been tested in clinical trials.

Possible side effects

  • Echinacea may cause an allergic reaction in sensitive patients.
  • People who have asthma or atopy ( a tendency for allergic asthma, eye and skin allergies, food allergy, or hay fever) may be more likely to have allergic reactions after taking echinacea by mouth or applying it to the skin. 
  • There have been reports of allergic symptoms such as skin hives, rash, itching, and redness.
  • Some patients have experienced more severe symptoms such as tightening of the chest, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the face, mouth and lips.  
  • Echinacea may cause abnormal or irregular heartbeat.
  • Echinacea may interact with some prescription medicines, so check with your doctor or pharmacist.

Learn more

Echinacea Cold study claims analysed NHS Choices
Echinacea National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health 

References

  1. Karsch-Völk M1, Barrett B, Kiefer D. Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Feb 20;2:CD000530.
Credits: Sandra Ponen, Pharmacist.