If you’ve been out in nature, or driven through the eastern, southeastern or the Midwest United States, you’ve likely come across Echinacea purpurea. This purple coneflower can usually be found in open woodlands and prairies, is grown in gardens and parks as an ornamental flower, and has been used for years as an herbal remedy for a number of ailments. Echinacea is a member of the daisy family that grows best in full sun and does not fare well in shaded areas.
As reported in Edible Medicinal and Non-Medicinal Plants, three varieties of Echinacea (E. purpurea, E. angustifolia and E. pallida) have traditionally been used in the treatment of various skin disorders, respiratory infections, colds, flu, bronchitis, wounds, burns, sexually transmitted diseases, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The entire Echinacea plant, including the roots, can be used in a variety of ways. The petals of the plant are edible and can be used for decoration in culinary applications. The roots, leaves, flowers, and stems can be used to make teas, tinctures, powdered supplements, and extracts.
What are the health benefits of Echinacea purpurea?
Echinacea purpurea functions to enhance the human immune response against pathogenic infections. It is likely best known for its effects on cold and flu prevention and treatment. In a 2012 trial, the safety and efficacy of Echinacea purpurea against colds was studied in 755 healthy participants. The Echinacea group experienced fewer cold episodes, decreased length of cold, and decreased need for painkiller medication during cold episodes. In addition to being an antiviral, Echinacea purpurea has antioxidant, antimicrobial, anticancer, and anti-inflammatory properties. As reported in Pharmacognosy Review, this medicinal plant can be used to prevent and treat a number of infectious diseases like respiratory tract infections (including the flu), wound infections, and sexually transmitted diseases (specifically, herpes simplex virus type 1). And, one randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study found a preparation of Echinacea was effective in helping to support the immune response in attacking a series of viruses targeting the respiratory tract.
When it comes to cancer, the research is indeed exciting. The phytonutrients found in plants like Echinacea, have been shown to combat cancerous tumors through the upregulation of immune function and their ability to reduce inflammation. As reported in Edible Medicinal and Non-Medicinal Plants, Echinacea was able to boost natural killer cell function against leukemia cells. In addition, Echinacea purpurea root extract has been shown to reduce viability of human pancreatic and colon cancer cell lines and also cause cell death in colon cancer cells.
Is Echinacea Safe?
Studies involving Echinacea indicate a good safety profile with short-term use (less than 10 days). Adverse events have included allergic reactions ranging from dermatitis to anaphylaxis. Those with allergies to plants in the daisy family should not use Echinacea-containing products. In addition, the safety of Echinacea in pregnancy has not been adequately studied, so caution should be used. Since Echinacea does have an immunostimulatory effect, those with autoimmune conditions or those taking immunosuppressant drugs should speak to their provider before taking Echinacea-containing supplements.
**This information is for educational purposes only and not intended to diagnose or treat any symptom or disease.**
Written by Kellie Blake, RDN, LD, IFNCP
Lim TK. Echinacea purpurea. Edible Medicinal And Non-Medicinal Plants. 2013;340-371. Published 2013 Sep 3. doi:10.1007/978-94-007-7395-0_23 Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7121736/
Manayi A, Vazirian M, Saeidnia S. Echinacea purpurea: Pharmacology, phytochemistry and analysis methods. Pharmacogn Rev. 2015;9(17):63-72. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.156353 Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4441164/
Zhai Z, Solco A, Wu L, et al. Echinacea increases arginase activity and has anti-inflammatory properties in RAW 264.7 macrophage cells, indicative of alternative macrophage activation. J Ethnopharmacol. 2009;122(1):76-85. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2008.11.028 Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2668539/