Echinacea is an herb closely related to sunflowers and ragweed. There are many different species of echinacea. The leaf, flower, and root of the most common ones—E. angustifolia and E. purpurea (or combinations of species)—appear on the labels of many dietary supplement products promoted to support immune health. Echinacea in dietary supplements is often touted to prevent or treat the common cold and flu-like symptoms. Common claims on these products include “year-round herbal supplement for immune support,” “immunity boosting,” and “immune defense.”
Use of echinacea might slightly reduce your chance of getting sick
from the common cold or developing flu-like symptoms throughout the winter months.
Long-term use has not been evaluated for safety.
The various types of echinacea extracts are available in capsule or liquid form, with the amounts and specific species listed on product labels varying widely. Echinacea is also found in many teas. It’s important to speak with a healthcare practitioner when considering an echinacea product, since no evidence-based recommendations have been agreed upon surrounding any type or amount of echinacea.
Can echinacea supplements support or boost immune health?
Preliminary research shows that healthy individuals might experience less risk of getting the common cold or developing flu-like symptoms when taking various echinacea dietary supplement products throughout the winter months or when exposed to certain life stressors. How much of a benefit this would actually provide is currently debatable, but some studies have shown that using echinacea might reduce the risk of getting sick by approximately 10–30%. Evidence showing that an individual will recover or bounce back more quickly if taking echinacea (either as a dietary supplement or a tea) when they do get sick is insufficient to make a firm statement.
Can echinacea negatively affect health and performance?
Echinacea appears safe for short-term use among healthy individuals. Common adverse effects reported include stomach pain, diarrhea, heartburn, and rash. Allergic reactions could occur, especially if you’re allergic to similar plants such as ragweed. Less is known about how echinacea might impact performance in other areas. The long-term use of echinacea has not been evaluated for safety.
The bottom line
The evidence to show that echinacea might help maintain immune health and reduce the chance of getting a cold or developing flu-like symptoms, short-term is limited. It is unknown what types or formulations of echinacea might offer benefit over others. Always speak with a healthcare practitioner before you use any dietary supplement, and always look for third-party seals on products. And remember: No dietary supplement can legally be marketed with claims for diagnosing, treating, curing, or preventing any disease or health condition, including flu, colds, and COVID-19.
The information in this article is only related to the use of echinacea as a single dietary supplement ingredient by healthy individuals looking to support immune health and does not represent the evidence for echinacea in combination with other ingredients. Unfortunately, little or no evidence is available regarding the various combinations of ingredients found in such products.
Updated 28 November 2022