Echinacea is a flowering herb native to North America. It’s also known as the American coneflower, or purple coneflower. The types of echinacea thought to have the most medicinal value are Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida.

Native Americans, primarily in the Plains region, were known to use echinacea as a remedy for many health conditions. Today, echinacea is a popular herbal remedy used to treat a variety of conditions, including colds and upper respiratory infections.

In this article, we’ll look at the potential value and uses of echinacea, as well as what the research says about its effectiveness for health conditions in children.

Echinacea plants contain compounds and antioxidants that may have multiple benefits. These include chicoric acid, which may help reduce inflammation in the brain that’s associated with memory loss.

One theory is that the antioxidants in echinacea may help protect cells from damage caused by free radicals, making the body better able to fight off infections and disease.

Echinacea is used by some in an attempt to:

  • reduce the severity and duration of the common cold
  • reduce the incidence of upper respiratory infections
  • reduce inflammation in the body and brain
  • lower blood sugar
  • reduce feelings of anxiety
  • treat acne
  • heal wounds

Echinacea has been used for centuries. Anecdotal evidence from parents indicates that some strains of echinacea, most especially Echinacea purpurea, have value for treating certain conditions in children.

However, research about echinacea’s effectiveness for health conditions in children is inconclusive.

The data about echinacea’s effectiveness for health conditions in children is limited and inconclusive. The available evidence suggests it may have some limited benefits in adults, such as alleviating acne, reducing the severity of colds, and lessening the duration of a cold or the flu.

The research on echinacea is far from conclusive. Some studies find benefit for children and others do not. In some cases, there may even be evidence that echinacea worsens certain conditions.

For colds

Parents sometimes use echinacea for treating their child’s cold. A meta-analysis of 14 studies found that echinacea reduced the odds of getting a cold by 58 percent. It also found that taking echinacea reduced the duration of common colds by 1.4 days.

However, another meta-analysis which looked at 24 randomized controlled trials, consisting of 4,631 participants, found that echinacea products have weak-to-no benefit for treating common colds.

A study of children aged 2 through 11 found that echinacea was not helpful for treating upper respiratory infection symptoms. It also found that children who used echinacea were more prone to getting a rash than those who didn’t use it.

This side effect may be due to allergies. A separate study found that echinacea sometimes caused acute hypersensitivity reactions (an exaggerated immune response) in children.

A meta-analysis published by American Family Physician found the available evidence does not support the use of echinacea for treating colds in children.

For ear infections

Ear infections in children are a common diagnosis. One study found that echinacea not only had no value for treating ear infections, but it also generated a borderline increased risk of getting them in children.

An older systematic review of 26 controlled clinical trials found that echinacea may have benefits to the immune system. Researchers indicated that the methodology in most of these studies was low and therefore not reliable. They concluded that more research in this area is needed.

For acne

An in vitro laboratory study found that Echinacea purpurea killed acne-causing bacteria and reduced inflammation.

Human trials for echinacea and acne are still needed to determine if this effect can be replicated in people.

Echinacea is available in a variety of forms. These include:

  • chewables
  • gummies
  • syrup
  • lozenges
  • capsules
  • liquid extract
  • powder
  • tea

Some echinacea products contain other ingredients, such as vitamin C or zinc, which may have certain benefits in adults. However, these ingredients likely won’t have any benefits for a child unless the child has a vitamin or mineral deficiency, which is very uncommon.

Other products contain ingredients you might wish to avoid, such as palm oil, corn syrup, or sugar.

Always read the label to determine the active and inactive ingredients, as well as the recommended dosage.

Since herbal supplements are not regulated, there’s no official safe dosage recommendation of echinacea for children.

If you choose to give your child echinacea, the dosing instructions provided on the product you buy may be your best guide for determining an appropriate dosage for your child’s age and weight, though this is not established.

Herbal remedies are not regulated

Homeopathic and herbal remedies are not regulated or overseen by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For parents, this removes a layer of certainty about what’s in the product you’re giving your child.

In addition, not all echinacea is the same. The properties of echinacea products differ significantly, based on a variety of factors. These include:

  • the echinacea species used
  • the parts of the plant used
  • the extraction method

These factors can make it hard to determine not only the dose your child should get, but also the efficacy of the product you’re buying.

Some may contain unknown ingredients

Where and how echinacea is manufactured may greatly affect its quality and safety. Some echinacea products have been found tainted with toxins such as lead, arsenic, and selenium.

Compounding these issues are labeling concerns. Since echinacea is not a regulated product, labels have been found to be misleading, including those which indicate that they are standardized.

In some instances, despite what the label states, there is no echinacea at all in the product. Some also have less echinacea than indicated.

Look for trusted, well-known manufacturers

When buying echinacea or any herbal supplement, look for trusted, well-known manufacturers who provide transparency about their product’s ingredients and quality. But be aware there is no guarantee of safety.

It’s always a good idea to talk to your child’s pediatrician about over-the-counter (OTC) and herbal supplements you plan on using.

Remind your child’s doctor about all of the products and medications your child is taking. Ask if there are other supplements or medications that might be a better fit than echinacea for your child’s current condition.

Anecdotal evidence indicates that some people feel echinacea may be beneficial for children. However, the research on echinacea for children does not reliably support this.

Before using echinacea, talk to your child’s pediatrician about its supposed benefits and potential risks.