When Should You Take Echinacea?
Echinacea, also known as purple coneflower, is a flowering plant native to North America. It has been used as an herbal remedy for hundreds of years to treat a variety of health conditions, but scientific evidence for its efficacy is lacking for most treatments. Learn more about echinacea uses, benefits and side effects so you can make an informed choice about whether to add this supplement to your diet.
Echinacea has traditionally been used for healing because of its potential to stimulate the immune system. Echinacea has mostly been studied for its benefit on respiratory problems, but there’s less research on other health benefits it may have. Some echinacea uses include:
- Respiratory problems: Echinacea may slightly help reduce the severity of cold or flu symptoms if you take it at the first sign of getting sick, but the evidence is mixed on its effectiveness. It may help with upper respiratory tract infections. A small study on people with early cold symptoms showed that those who drank echinacea tea for five days felt better sooner than those who drank other kinds of tea.
- Wounds: A topical application of echinacea may work as an antiseptic and help heal wounds and other skin problems.
While there isn’t much scientific evidence to support other uses, herbalists often recommend echinacea as a treatment for other conditions such as:
- Ear infections
- Vaginal yeast infections
Researchers think it’s safe to take echinacea for short-term use—about eight weeks but possibly up to four months. There hasn’t been enough study to know whether long-term use is safe. It’s a good idea to talk to your doctor or pharmacist before taking it because echinacea is known to have some side effects and could possibly interact with some medications. Potential side effects include:
- Allergic reaction: Some people may have an allergic reaction to echinacea, such as a rash, hives or swelling in the face, lips or tongue. Allergic reactions are more likely to happen in people who are allergic to flowering plants such as ragweed, mums, marigolds or daisies.
- Digestive issues: Echinacea may cause stomach pain, constipation, nausea or diarrhea. Taking echinacea with food may help prevent digestive upset.
- Dark urine: This could indicate a liver problem. Fatigue and yellowing of the eyes can also indicate problems with the liver.
- Headaches or dizziness
- Fever or chills
- Jitteriness: Taking echinacea along with caffeinated drinks may increase your risk of having compounded side effects of caffeine, such as headache, increased heart rate, and feeling jittery.
If you have side effects, be sure to talk to your doctor to make sure it’s safe for you to continue taking echinacea. Just because it’s a natural product doesn’t mean it’s always safe to take.
Anyone who has problems with their immune system, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis or AIDS, should avoid echinacea. Echinacea may reduce the effectiveness of immunosuppressing drugs.
If you’re already taking medication that may affect your liver, herbalists recommend avoiding echinacea.
Because echinacea is an herbal supplement, it’s not regulated by the FDA. Supplements sold in stores may not have the exact purity or potency as labeled, so keep that in mind if you’re considering taking an echinacea supplement. Be sure to take the supplement as directed on the product packaging. It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor about it before adding it to your diet. This is especially important for women who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
Echinacea can be taken in several different ways. Echinacea teas, pills, topical ointment, tinctures and other diluted liquids are common ways to take the supplement. If you want to try different preparations of echinacea, be very careful not to accidentally take more than the recommended dosage.