Echinacea is one of the most popular herbal products in the UK. It’s a flowering plant that grows throughout Europe and North America the leaves, stems, flower, and roots of which may be used to produce supplements, liquid extracts, and teas. People have used Echinacea as a traditional cold remedy for centuries.
Echinacea is now registered by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency as a traditional herbal medicine meaning it can be sold in the UK for treatment of symptoms of the common cold and flu.
What are the benefits of Echinacea?
Different studies have produced mixed results about whether Echinacea works for colds. Giving healthy adults Echinacea every day for four months has been found to result in around a 26% reduction in the number and duration of colds, according to the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff University, in a study published in 2012.
Inevitably there are many variables in studying Echinacea for the common cold. Studies have looked at different types and strengths of Echinacea as well as different parts of the plant or root. This makes it hard to compare the results, as it is possible that some formulations are better than others.
Echinacea seems to activate chemicals in the body that decrease inflammation, which may reduce cold and flu symptoms. Laboratory research suggests that Echinacea can stimulate the body’s immune system and in humans it seems that it is especially effective at relieving cold and flu symptoms.
Echinacea can be taken alongside Vitamin C in the winter months, but avoid taking it long term.
Echinacea for children
Children under 12 years old should not be given herbal treatments containing Echinacea because of the risk of an allergic reaction and Echinacea products carry this advice on their packaging. Other reported side effects of Echinacea include rashes, nausea, heartburn, itching, constipation and headache.