Echinacea is a group of plants that are rich in antioxidants and may help support immunity. They’re available in several different forms, which vary in terms of recommended dosage.
Echinacea, also called purple coneflower, is one of the most popular herbs worldwide.
Native Americans have used it for centuries to treat various ailments (
Today, it’s best known as an over-the-counter herbal remedy for the common cold or flu. However, it’s also used to treat pain, inflammation, migraines, and other health issues.
This article reviews the benefits, uses, side effects, and dosage of echinacea.
Echinacea is the name of a group of flowering plants in the daisy family.
They’re native to North America where they grow in prairies and open, wooded areas.
Altogether, this group has nine species, but only three are used in herbal supplements — Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida (
Both the plant’s upper parts and roots are used in tablets, tinctures, extracts, and teas.
Echinacea plants contain an impressive variety of active compounds, such as caffeic acid, alkamides, phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid, polyacetylenes, and many more (2).
In addition, studies have linked echinacea and their compounds to many health benefits, such as reduced inflammation, improved immunity, and lower blood sugar levels.
Echinacea is a group of flowering plants used as a popular herbal remedy. They’re linked to many health benefits, such as reduced inflammation, improved immunity, and lower blood sugar levels.
Echinacea plants are loaded with plant compounds that function as antioxidants.
Antioxidants are molecules that help defend your cells against oxidative stress, a state that has been linked to chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and many others (
Some of these antioxidants are flavonoids, cichoric acid, and rosmarinic acid (2).
These antioxidants appear to be higher in extracts from the flowers and roots of the plants, compared to other parts, such as the leaves (
In addition, echinacea plants contain compounds called alkamides, which can further enhance antioxidant activity (2,
Echinacea is loaded with antioxidants, such as flavonoids, cichoric acid, and rosmarinic acid, which may help defend your body against oxidative stress.
Research on echinacea suggests that it offers several impressive health benefits.
Positive effect on the immune system
Echinacea is best known for its beneficial effects on the immune system.
Numerous older studies have found that this plant may help your immune system combat infections and viruses, which could help you recover faster from illness (
That’s one reason why echinacea is often used to prevent or treat the common cold.
In fact, one review found that echinacea could reduce the risk of developing an upper respiratory tract infection by 22%. However, researchers did not find any significant effect on the duration of illness (
According to a 2014 review, many studies on this topic are poorly designed and show no real benefit. This makes it hard to know if any benefits on colds are from taking echinacea or simply from chance (
In short, while echinacea may boost immunity, its effects on the common cold are unclear.
May lower blood sugar levels
High blood sugar can raise your risk of serious health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and several other chronic conditions.
Test-tube studies have found that echinacea plants may help lower blood sugar levels.
In a test-tube study, an Echinacea purpurea extract was shown to suppress enzymes that digest carbohydrates. In theory, this means that echinacea might be able to reduce the amount of sugar entering your blood (
Other animal studies suggest that the antioxidants found in echinacea could help improve blood sugar and insulin sensitivity (
Still, human-based research on the effects of echinacea on blood sugar is lacking.
May reduce feelings of anxiety
Anxiety is a common problem that is estimated to affect nearly 7% of adults in the United States (
In recent years, echinacea plants have emerged as a potential aid for anxiety.
Some older research has discovered that echinacea plants contain compounds that may reduce feelings of anxiety. These include alkamides, rosmarinic acid, and caffeic acid (
One study found that taking 40 milligrams (mg) of echinacea extract twice daily for 7 days significantly reduced anxiety compared to a placebo (
In another study, taking 40 mg or 80 mg of echinacea extract per day was not associated with improvements in anxiety compared to a placebo. However, it did lead to improvements in positive and negative affect and emotional wellbeing (
Still, research is limited and more studies are needed before echinacea products can be recommended as a possible treatment.
Inflammation is your body’s natural way of promoting healing and defending itself.
Sometimes inflammation can get out of hand and last for longer than necessary and expected. This may raise your risk of chronic diseases and other health problems (
Several studies have shown that echinacea can help reduce excess inflammation.
In one mouse study, echinacea compounds helped reduce important inflammatory markers and memory loss caused by inflammation (
In another 30-day study, adults with osteoarthritis found that taking a supplement containing ginger extract and echinacea extract significantly reduced inflammation, chronic pain, and swelling.
Interestingly, these adults did not respond well to conventional non-steroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) but found the supplement containing echinacea and ginger extract helpful (
Furthermore, a review of 105 studies concluded that echinacea supplementation could be associated with several decreased markers of inflammation, including interleukin-6 (IL-6), IL-8, and tumor necrosis factor (
May help treat skin concerns
Research has shown that echinacea plants may help treat common skin concerns.
In one study, a supplement containing a botanical extract derived from eggplant and echinacea was effective at improving mild to moderate acne compared to a placebo. However, it’s unclear how much of this could be attributed to echinacea specifically (
In another 2010 study in 10 people, skin care products containing echinacea extract were found to improve skin hydration and reduce wrinkles (
Similarly, a cream containing Echinacea purpurea extract was shown to improve eczema symptoms and help repair the skin’s thin, protective outer layer (
However, echinacea extract appears to have a short shelf life, making it difficult to incorporate into commercial skin care products.
May offer protection against cancer
Cancer is a disease that involves the uncontrolled growth of cells.
Test-tube studies have shown that echinacea extracts may suppress cancer cell growth and even trigger cancer cell death (
In one 2012 test-tube study, an extract of Echinacea purpurea and chicoric acid — a compound naturally found in echinacea plants — was shown to trigger cancer cell death (
In another older test-tube study, extracts from echinacea plants (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, and Echinacea pallida) killed human cancer cells from the pancreas and colon by stimulating a process called apoptosis, or controlled cell death (
It’s believed that this effect occurs due to echinacea’s immune-boosting properties (
There was some concern that echinacea could interact with conventional cancer treatments, such as doxorubicin, but older studies have found no interaction (
That being said, more recent studies in humans are needed before making any recommendations.
Echinacea has been shown to improve immunity, blood sugar, anxiety, inflammation, and skin health. It may even have anti-cancer properties. However, human-based research on these benefits is often limited.
Echinacea products appear to be safe and well-tolerated for short-term use (
However, though echinacea is commonly used for short periods, some research suggests that it is also safe for long-term use as well (
The most common side effects reported include minor digestive issues and skin rashes (
Though rare, some people may also be allergic to echinacea, which can cause side effects like hives, swelling, and anaphylaxis, a severe allergic reaction (
As echinacea appears to stimulate the immune system, people with autoimmune disorders or people taking immunosuppressive drugs should avoid it or consult a doctor first (
Echinacea appears to be safe and well tolerated for short- and long-term use. It may not be safe for people with certain health conditions or who are taking certain medications.
There is currently no official dosage recommendation for echinacea.
One reason being that findings from echinacea research are highly variable.
In addition, echinacea products often may not contain what is written on the label. One older study found that 10% of echinacea products samples did not contain any echinacea (
This is why you should purchase echinacea products from trusted brands.
That said, older research has found the following doses to be effective in aiding immunity (
- Dry powdered extract: 300–500 mg of Echinacea purpurea, three times daily
- Liquid extract tinctures: 2.5 milliliters (mL), three times daily, or up to 10 mL daily
Keep in mind that these recommendations are for short-term use.
Additionally, note that it’s best to follow the instructions that come with your specific supplement.
Echinacea products are highly variable, which makes it hard to set a standard recommended dosage. The dosages vary with the form of echinacea you’re using.
Echinacea has been shown to improve immunity, blood sugar, anxiety, inflammation, and skin health. It may even have anti-cancer properties. However, human-based research is often limited.
It’s considered safe and well tolerated for short-term and long-term use.
Suggested dosages vary depending on the form of echinacea you’re using.
Although it’s commonly used to treat the common cold, results in this area are mixed. While research has shown it may help prevent respiratory infections or provide symptomatic relief, many studies have been poorly designed or shown no real benefit.
That said, there aren’t many products like echinacea with similar potential immune-boosting effects, so it might be worth trying it out.