This ancient cure - used for over 400 years by the native Americans - is still used today to give us a fighting chance to beat colds and flu.

What is Echinacea?

Echinacea is prepared from the root, seeds and leaves of the coneflower - a daisy like purple flower used by native Americans to treat coughs, colds and sore throats. It’s now commonly used as a herbal remedy to do the same job.

Analysis shows echinacea contains many antioxidants (such as flavonoids) known to reduce inflammation and prevent and repair cellular damage in the body.

Echinacea comes in many forms: in capsules, ointments, tablets, as extracts, tinctures and drunk in tea. You’ll generally find three different varieties: Echinacea angustifolia, echinacea pallida or echinacea purpurea. Some preparations will contain a combination of all three.

Read the label to determine the dosage - it will generally tell you to take echinacea over a series of days (usually no more than a 10 day period at any one time) to be effective.

Why do I need Echinacea?

Unlike many herbal remedies echinacea has been the subject of lots of studies and the evidence suggests it really does give the immune system a boost.

A study published in The Lancet* from the University of Connecticut and Hartford Hospital in the USA found that echinacea more than halved the odds of catching the common cold (decreasing the odds by 58%). Adults who took echinacea caught only one to two colds a year - the average is two to four colds. Even if they did succumb to the sniffles they were ill for less time. But the participants took other supplements too making it hard to know if the results were due to echinacea alone. -The findings have been backed up by newer, larger studies.

In 2012 researchers who carried out the largest ever clinical study of echinacea did prove that echinacea can reduce the duration of a cold, even if it can’t stop you from catching one in the first place. The study from the Common Cold Centre in Cardiff University* reported that people who took echinacea daily for four months reduced the number and duration of cold episodes by 26%.

Echinacea is sometimes used to alleviate pain, to treat yeast infections such as athlete’s foot, for its antiviral action to help prevent recurrent cold sores, and to treat upper respiratory tract infections, urinary tract infections and for wound healing. All these areas need further exploration.

Can Echinacea ever be bad for you?

Check with your doctor first before using echinacea if you suffer from an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis or rheumatoid arthritis or if you are taking medication for problems with the central nervous or cardiovascular systems. Echinacea can and does interfere with some medication.

In rare cases echinacea may also cause an allergic response. Avoid echinacea if you are allergic to plants in the daisy family.