Echinacea: A Wise Choice for Upper Respiratory Infections

Echinacea: A Wise Choice for Upper Respiratory Infections

If you haven't tried echinacea to help you through a cold or flu bug, you might want to consider it. This herb has been used for hundreds of years—in America, native Americans used it and shared their knowledge of its medicinal value with early European settlers. Recent scientific studies are supporting its ability to reduce both the severity and duration of colds, flus, and sore throats when it's taken at the onset of symptoms. It appears to stimulate the immune system's response to infections; however, it has not been shown effective for preventing upper respiratory infections.

Echinacea comes from the dried root and leaves of the Echinacea purpurea plant and its related species. There are many different forms of echinacea available, including teas, tinctures, and capsules. At the first sign of a cold, experts recommend taking small, frequent doses of 1 to 2 droppers of tincture every 2 to 3 hours or 200 mg in capsule form three times a day. It is also recommended that you buy from a reputable manufacturer that uses a standardized extract.

As symptoms improve, stop taking echinacea. The safety of long-term echinacea use is unknown, and experts don't recommend using it for more than 8 weeks in a row. Side effects may include gastrointestinal distress, headache, and hypersensitivity. It is not recommended for people with an autoimmune disease such as multiple sclerosis or HIV/AIDs. It is not known whether or not echinacea can be used safely during pregnancy, so it's possibly wise to avoid using it until after the birth of your child.

Remember that often colds and flu are your body's way of saying it's time to slow down. Don't forget the tried-and-true remedies: Drink a lot of fluids and get plenty of rest.


Tincture: A preparation made from alcohol or water and alcohol, containing an herb strength of 1 part herb to 5 parts solvent or 1 part herb to 10 parts solvent.

Suggested Resources

The Healing Power of Echinacea, Goldenseal, and Other Immune System Herbs by Paul Bergner (Prima Publishing 1997)

Echinacea by Mark Stengler (Impakt Communications 1999)


Access: Professional Reference to Conditions, Herbs, and Supplements. Newton, Mass: Integrative Medicine Communications; 2000.

Barret B, Vohmann M, Calabrese C. Echinacea for upper respiratory infection. J Fam Pract. 1999;48:628-635.

Blumenthal M, ed. The Complete German Commission E Monographs: Therapeutic Guide to Herbal Medicines. Austin, Tex: The American Botanical Councial and Boston, jMass: Integrative Medicine Communications;1998.

Brinkeborn RM, Shah DV, Degenring FH. Echinaforce and other echinacea fresh plant preparations in the treatment of the common cold. Phytomedicine. 1999;6(1):1-5.

Melchart D, Linde K, Worku F, Bauer R, Wagner H. Immunomodulation with echinacea: a systematic review of controlled clinical trials. Phytomedicine. 1994;1:245-254.

Review Date: January 2000
Reviewed By: Integrative Medicine editorial

Copyright © 2004 A.D.A.M., Inc

The publisher does not accept any responsibility for the accuracy of the information or the consequences arising from the application, use, or misuse of any of the information contained herein, including any injury and/or damage to any person or property as a matter of product liability, negligence, or otherwise. No warranty, expressed or implied, is made in regard to the contents of this material. No claims or endorsements are made for any drugs or compounds currently marketed or in investigative use. This material is not intended as a guide to self-medication. The reader is advised to discuss the information provided here with a doctor, pharmacist, nurse, or other authorized healthcare practitioner and to check product information (including package inserts) regarding dosage, precautions, warnings, interactions, and contraindications before administering any drug, herb, or supplement discussed herein.

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