What Are the Benefits of Echinacea?
If you’ve been under the weather, you may have heard that echinacea can help support the immune system. This herb can be found in teas, tinctures, lozenges, and capsules — but can it really support your immune system, or is it just another wellness fad? Here’s what you need to know about the benefits of echinacea.
What is Echinacea?
Also known as purple coneflower or American coneflower, echinacea refers to several species of wildflowers that were commonly used in traditional Native American medicine. The seeds, roots, flowers, and leaves can be used fresh or dried to make teas, extracts, and supplements.
Echinacea is taken orally in an effort to potentially support a healthy immune system, says Tina Marinaccio, MS, RD, who offers nutrition counseling and cooking classes in the greater New York City area.
But does echinacea really work?
What Are the Benefits of Echinacea?
Echinacea may not have any significant impact, depending on when you take it. In an analysis of seven different studies on the effects of echinacea on immune function, only one study showed any difference between echinacea and a placebo.
However, research suggests there may be a link between echinacea and the immune system — though “the jury is still out on its other benefits,” says Stephanie Searor, MS, RD, LDN, the owner of Love Yourself Nutrition & Wellness. Here are a few of the potential benefits of echinacea.
- Immune Support
A 2016 study — the largest to date — found that Echinacea purpurea extract was associated with a healthier immune system. A previous review also suggests echinacea may have some potential link to supporting a healthy immune system — although there’s not enough solid evidence to say whether echinacea is the reason for the benefit.
- Skin care
Echinacea has been studied for its impact on skin. A 2017 study — which focused primarily on the association between topical echinacea and skin health — suggests that echinacea extract may benefit skin health when applied topically.
Side Effects of Echinacea
“Side effects are rare,” Marinaccio says. “GI upset and rashes are most common, and in rare occasions, severe allergic reaction.” Echinacea is in the same family as daisies, ragweed, marigolds, and chrysanthemums, so avoid the herb if you have a known allergy to those plants. Talk to your physician before starting any new supplement.
Can You Take Echinacea Every Day?
In the short term, yes. “Echinacea is considered likely to be safe when taken orally, and for the short term,” says Marinaccio. Research suggests the risk of interactions with other medications is low. However, the long-term safety of echinacea is unknown. Again, it’s best to talk to a qualified health-care professional before taking any new vitamins or supplements.
What Is the Best Brand of Echinacea?
You can find echinacea supplements online, at your local health food store or co-op, and at many mainstream pharmacies and supermarkets.
Anytime you shop for a supplement, there are a few questions to consider: How is the supplement produced? Is it processed without harmful solvents or other additives? Is the company reputable? Do they offer proof of the tests they perform (including verification that what’s on the label is really what you’re buying and that they’ve tested for microbes, heavy metals, etc.)? Are they making claims that sound too good to be true? Keep in mind that supplement companies have to abide by industry standards for their claims, which are regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
To get you started, here are a few popular echinacea supplements to consider:
Note: Echinacea dosage varies between brands and supplements, so always abide by the label’s suggested use instructions.