Sweigart Report: Echinacea for Common Colds | Vol. 4 / No. 15.1

The Purple Coneflower | Photo: Takashi .M, CC BY 2.0

In this week’s woo-tastic offering, Katelyn bring us the lowdown on Echinacea, the sometime-cold-remedy otherwise known as the purple coneflower.

Echinacea is a group of daisies that grows in eastern and central North America and is widely considered to prevent or shorten the duration of the common cold. While it does have some nifty constituents that could help with various ailments…there’s no hard proof that it works on its own. And for once, it isn’t a lack of studies, since this is actually a fairly well-researched plant.

But there are some issues with these studies:

  • There is actually more than one species of Echinacea. Three (E. angustfolia, E. purpurea, E. pallida) have been used in various studies to test their medicinal uses. Each are used interchangeably in the supplement market.
  • Preparation of plant also varies in the studies. Did they use the flower? The root? The leaf? The extract? Did they stick in in a juicer? Make it into a tablet? (It’s popularly used as a tea or tinctures, but the commercially available products used may not meet pharmaceutical standards.)
  • The patient groups were not consistent between the studies.
  • A few studies using the non-root parts of Echinacea purpurea showed promise of preventing colds, but they wasn’t consistent results between them.
  • There is no study for the safety of long-term use.

Here’s the conclusion from one study, and a follow up:

Echinacea products have not here been shown to provide benefits for treating colds, although, it is possible there is a weak benefit from some Echinacea products: the results of individual prophylaxis trials consistently show positive (if non-significant) trends, although potential effects are of questionable clinical relevance.

Individual prophylaxis trials show no association with prevention of the common cold, but exploratory meta-analysis suggests that Echinacea products may be associated with a small reduction in cold incidence. In treatment trials, there was no association of Echinacea products with a shorter duration of colds.

In general, it claims to boost the immune system, which always puts me on high alert. If it boosts the immune system, chances are that people will try to use it for ALL infections. So people try, and this is a list of things people claim it can be used for: anxiety, gingivitis, herpes, HPV, the flu, leukopenia, middle ear infections, tonsillitis, eye inflammation, UTIs, yeast infections, HIV/AIDS, strep infection, syphilis, typhoid, malaria, diphtheria, migraines, eczema, hay fever, bee stings, ADHD, indigestion, rattlesnake bites, rheumatoid arthritis, pain, and more.

I stopped reading at HIV/AIDS, because NO. NO. Stop. Just stop. Also, it may have some constituents that may help in rattlesnake bites, but it is by no means a freaking replacement for an immediate trip to emergency room.

Honestly, I like the taste of echinacea, and find no issue with sipping some Traditional Medicinals Echinacea Plus tea when I’m feeling sniffly. Mostly because I like the taste and want tea when I’m sick anyway. Echinacea does nothing substantial for preventing or shortening the duration of the common cold.

Zinc apparently works though.


Katelyn Sweigart is a recovering woonatic and This Week In Tomorrow’s new regular correspondent for your weekly dose of Monday woo.


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