Echinacea is a group of flowering plants that belong to the daisy family, along with plants like sunflowers, chicory, chamomile, and chrysanthemums.

There are different species, with Echinacea purpurea being popular. Other species include Echinacea pallida, Echinacea laevigata, and Echinacea tennesseensis.

The leaves and roots of the plant have long been used in traditional medicine to reduce inflammation and enhance immune function (1).

It’s popular as a natural remedy to reduce cold and flu symptoms like stuffiness, sneezing, and sinus pressure. However, you may wonder whether this herb deserves a spot in your medicine cabinet and if it really does prevent and treat the common cold.

This article looks at the safety and effectiveness of using echinacea to treat the common cold.

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Research has turned up mixed results on echinacea’s ability to reduce symptoms of the common cold.

For instance, one review of 16 studies concluded that the herb was more effective than a placebo at preventing and treating upper respiratory infections like the cold (2).

Another review of 14 studies found that it reduced the odds of developing the common cold by 58% and decreased the duration of symptoms by 1.4 days (3).

Similarly, in one study in 80 people, taking echinacea at the onset of cold symptoms reduced the duration of symptoms by 67%, compared with a placebo (4).

In a review including nearly 2,500 people, echinacea extract was found to reduce the risk of recurrent respiratory tract infections and decrease complications like pneumonia, tonsillitis, and ear infections (5).

Multiple test-tube and animal studies have also concluded that the extract may enhance immune function by increasing the production of specific immune cells in the body (6, 7, 8).

Not only that, but it could also help treat symptoms of the flu.

In one study in 473 people with the flu, drinking an echinacea-based beverage was as effective as an antiviral medication at treating symptoms. Yet, the study was funded by the drug manufacturer which may have affected results (9).

On the other hand, a large review of 24 studies found that echinacea didn’t significantly prevent cold symptoms. However, it did find weak evidence that this herb might reduce the incidence of the common cold (10).

Still, according to the review, many studies on the effectiveness of echinacea have a high risk of bias and are underpowered, meaning that the results may not be statistically significant (10).

Therefore, more high-quality research is needed to determine if this herb can help treat the common cold.

Summary

Some studies have observed that echinacea could aid in preventing and treating the common cold, but more research is needed.

Although echinacea is generally considered safe when used as directed, it has been associated with potential side effects, including stomach pain, nausea, rash, difficulty breathing, and swelling of the skin (1).

Additionally, while studies show that the herb can be used safely by women who are pregnant and breastfeeding, it should be used with caution until more high-quality human studies are available (11, 12).

In children, echinacea may be associated with an increased risk of rash, which is why it’s often not recommended for use in children under 12 years of age (13, 14).

Furthermore, if you have any underlying health conditions or take any medications, it’s best to consult with your healthcare provider before using echinacea.

Summary

Echinacea is generally safe and associated with minimal adverse side effects. Children, people with underlying health conditions, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should exercise caution when using it.

Echinacea is widely available at health stores, pharmacies, and online in tea, tablet, and tincture form.

Although there is no official recommended dosage for echinacea extract, most studies have evaluated the effects of dosages of 450–4,000 mg daily for up to 4 months (10).

Many capsules and supplements contain one or two types of echinacea root and are often combined with other ingredients like vitamin C or elderberry.

Echinacea tea is also available, which can contain up to 1,000 mg of the root per serving.

Regardless of which form you choose, it’s best to start with a low dose and work your way up to assess your tolerance. If you notice any negative side effects, discontinue use and consult your healthcare provider.

When purchasing a supplement, look for products that have been tested by an independent third party.

Summary

Echinacea is found in tea, tincture, and capsule forms. Most studies have evaluated the effects of echinacea in doses of 450–4,000 mg daily for up to 4 months.

Echinacea is a powerful herb with potent medicinal properties.

Although some research has found that it might treat and prevent the common cold, other studies have concluded that it’s unlikely to have any significant impact. Hence, more high-quality studies in humans are needed.

That said, echinacea is associated with minimal adverse effects on health and can be a great addition to your natural cold-fighting routine if you find it helpful.