Echinacea for Colds

Learn why you might want to consider the potential benefits of Echinacea for colds.

Echinacea purpurea  (10) Habit

Echinacea purpurea (10) Habit

Echinacea purpurea (10)

Comb the organic or natural section of the grocery store and you’ll likely encounter some form of Echinacea for colds. Echinacea tea, Echinacea lozenges, Echinacea capsules—you can find this herb in a variety of forms. Visit your local herbalist or natural health store, and you’ll likely find Echinacea tincture and Echinacea salve.

Using Echinacea for colds started by accident when a Swiss-based supplement company mistakenly believed that Native American tribes in South Dakota used the plant to treat the common cold. Various tribes used Echinacea to treat different ailments, but none relied on it for treating a cold. The Cheyenne and Kiowa tribes used Echinacea to treat coughs and sore throats, and the Pawnee used it for headaches. Perhaps since these are all part and parcel of the symptoms of a cold, the leap was made to use Echinacea for colds.

Echinacea is a pretty native wildflower in North America. Several species exist and can be used in herbal medicine. Purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), narrow-leaf coneflower (Echinacea angustifolia) and pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida) are the species commonly used in herbal treatments. Purple coneflower is the showy garden perennial that holds a place in many household gardens and landscaping.

Most commonly, the average person might tend to gravitate toward Echinacea tea and capsules for their potential ability to treat the common cold. Unfortunately, these preparations don’t often deliver the immune-boosting punch that’s needed to kick a cold. The process of drying Echinacea reduces the full range of immune boosters the plant naturally contains. In trying to achieve the best health benefits from Echinacea, natural medicine practitioners believe that you need to consume a form that’s been prepared from fresh plant parts that aren’t allowed to dry out.

The most common form of fresh Echinacea is a tincture, an alcohol-based extract. Even commercially available tinctures may be made from dried Echinacea, so many herbalists recommend that anyone interested in the possible health benefits of Echinacea do their homework and learn which brand is made from fresh plant parts. Some believe that using the right form of Echinacea is key in its potential ability to treat colds.

Some research supports using Echinacea for colds with positive results; other studies show no correlation between cold duration or recovery and Echinacea use. Modern herbalists often disagree, claiming that Echinacea does help shorten the duration of a cold. The problem is that it’s most often used incorrectly. Noted herbalist Steven Foster, the co-author of the National Geographic Society’s Desk Reference to Nature’s Medicine and author of Echinacea: Nature’s Immune Enhancer has written that he often treats the onset of a cold with regular doses of Echinacea. Some believe that Echinacea can prevent a cold if caught early, or that the herb may even lessen the symptoms of a cold if taken regularly. But debate continues over Echinacea’s effectiveness in treating or lessening the symptoms of the common cold.

Scientific studies have suggested that a combination of Echinacea and vitamin C might potentially help in fighting a cold—and might even help folks not get a cold in the first place. Many Echinacea preparations combine it with goldenseal, another herb that could have a potentially positive impact on respiratory tissues. With its possible antiviral properties, Echinacea could be able to help prevent getting a cold and hanging onto it. The secret to success lies in learning how to use it.

Editor's Note: This article is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a professional healthcare provider before trying any form of therapy or if you have any questions or concerns about a medical condition. The use of natural products can be toxic if misused, and even when suitably used, certain individuals could have adverse reactions.