Echinacea is one of the most popular herbs used worldwide as a natural remedy.
It has also been linked to its ability to enhance immune health, ability as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory, and benefit to reducing anxiety.
What is Echinacea?
Echinacea – also known as purple coneflower – is, in fact, a flower. A group of flowers, to be exact.
Echinacea includes three different daisy species (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida) that are used in herbal supplements (1). These flowers can be found in North American prairies as well as Europe and are an age old remedy for various ailments and are still being used today.
The roots of the flower are dried and used to make tablets, extracts, and teas you can purchase from the store or online (1). Additionally, the leaves, flowers and seeds are also used to produce several over-the-counter supplements. These roots, leave, etcetera, contain phytochemicals including caffeic acid, alkamides, phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid, polyacetylenes and many more that have the potential to provide several health benefits (1).
5 Benefits of Echinacea
- High in antioxidants
Echinacea is high in a phytochemical called alkamides, which has antioxidant properties. In this way, consuming Echinacea as a supplement may enhance your cells (i.e., lymphocytes and phagocytes) ability to protect against the effects and damage from free radicals.
- Boosts immune system health
Echinacea is best known for its effect on the immune system.
Numerous research studies have found this plant may help your immune system fight attacks. Further, they’ve been shown to assist in combatting infections and viruses, which may also help in a quicker recovery (1).
- May reduce feelings of anxiety
The is potential for Echinacea to aid in reducing anxiety, which is an mental/emotional disorder diagnosed in every 1 in 5 adults in the United States. Phytochemicals in Echinacea have shown to lessen the stress on certain areas of the brain in order to reduce chemical causes of anxiety (3).
- Inflammation prevention and reduction
Though inflammation is a natural body function for healing, there are times inflammation can become uncontrollable. When inflammation increases to an out of control extent, this is when the risk for chronic disease and other health problems increases (1).
Echinacea has been shown to reduce this excessive inflammation linked to increased risk for chronic disease and other ailments. This will help, in particular, those with diseases associated with high rates of chronic pain and swelling caused by inflammation. Including those with osteoarthritis.
- May reduce skin concerns
Echinacea has been added to several skin care products and has shown that it has the potential to reduce a scope of skin problems.
As listed above, the herb has anti-inflammatory properties, which reduce inflammation and redness of the skin. Additionally, it is also anti-bacterial. In test-tube studies Echinacea suppressed the growth of a bacteria (i.e., Propionibacterium), which is a common cause of acne (1). Some users of Echinacea ointments have also seen reduction of wrinkles and fine lines.
3 Forms of Echinacea supplements
The most familiar form to consume supplements is as a capsule or tablet.
These tablets all include phytochemicals from the Echinacea flower (2). Phytochemicals are natural, active compounds produced by plants that provide the benefits of the herb. In this case – the antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, immune boosting, and anxiety reduction Echinacea offers.
Phytochemicals in Echinacea include caffeic acid, alkamides, phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid, polyacetylenes and many more (1).
You can also find Echinacea in the form of extracts. Extracts are made primarily from the dried root of the flower. They also come in several different varieties (i.e., tinctures).
Extracts are a beneficial way to consume and herb, due to its processing of the phytochemicals into a from that is readily absorbable without the need for digestion.
Another common way to consume Echinacea is as a tea.
The amount of Echinacea tea you need to drink to see benefits varies depending on the brand of tea itself and how strongly you brew it (4).
- Bonus – Ointments or other skin care products
Although not a consumable supplement, ointments and other skin care products containing Echinacea are available to help treat skin concerns. These creams provide anti-inflammatory aid, for skin redness, and anti-bacterial assistance to stave off acne. Also, don’t forget about their ability to reduce fine lines and of wrinkles.
There is currently no recommendations for Echinacea due to research variability and a few unreliable products labeled to be containing Echinacea, but in fact do not. This shows the importance of finding trusted brands for your preferred Echinacea supplement (1).
That being said, researchers have seen enhanced immunity with the following doses of Echinacea for short-term use:
- Dry powdered extract: 300–500 mg, three times daily.
- Liquid extract: 2.5 ml, three times daily; or up to 10 ml daily.
However, best practices are to follow the instructions for your specific supplement (1).
Potential side effects of Echinacea
Echinacea has been proven to be safe and effective with short-term use. However, in cases where Echinacea supplements are used against recommendations — such as long-term or excessive use — patients experienced a range of less than optimal side-effects, including (1):
- Itchy skin
- Stomach pain
- Shortness of breath
As always, if you are experiencing any of these negative reactions seek out the advice of a medical professional immediately.
Is an Echinacea supplement right for you?
First and foremost, you will need to determine what your need and use of Echinacea is and will be. Afterward, you will need to choose the form of Echinacea supplement you are looking for – whether that be a tea, extract, or tablet.
Whichever you happen to select, ensure you purchase a trustworthy brand and through review usage instructions.
Remember, though there is data on Echinacea, there is still ample research to be done on topics like dosage. So if you are ever in doubt, seek the advice of a medical professional.
Author: Allison Lansman, RDN, LD
Allison Lansman is a Registered Dietitian (RD), freelance nutrition and health writer, and wellness blogger. She is the owner/operator of The Freelance RD writing service and blog. Her business provides mainly writing services, but also product development, educational services and brand partnerships.
As an RD, Allison embraces a modern approach to nutrition and wellness. She believes we benefit most from building positive, balanced connections between mind, body, food, and environment. And she is passionate about sharing that philosophy through wellness communication and writing.
Her educational background is through Iowa State University, where she completed both her undergraduate degree and dietetics internship. She is currently studying towards an Masters in Public Health.