Echinacea is a plant found in North America, Native Americans have long valued echinacea for its medical properties but in the 20th Century its use spread to many countries after it became popular in Germany. In today’s health food shops you can see dozens of different kinds of preparations.
Research has suggested that echinacea improves immune system activity, and can help reduce inflammation as well as relieve pain, and also act as an antiviral.
It’s not well understood how it works however extracts of echinacea do seem to have an effect on the immune system, your body's defense against germs. Research shows it increases the number of white blood cells, which fight infections. This supports the fact that the most commonly considered benefits of echinacea are for helping to reduce symptoms as well as the duration of the common cold and flu.
Numerous studies have indicated that individuals taking echinacea the moment they experience the first signs of a cold can significantly lessen the severity of the cold and also have less symptoms compared to those who don’t use echinacea. One such study showed that people who had early cold and flu symptoms that drank a number of cups of echinacea tea each day for five days felt well quicker compared to people who drank tea having no echinacea.
There is also some evidence suggesting that taking ehinacea at the first sign of a cold can stop the cold from developing further. In a study of 120 people that took Echinacea purpurea or a placebo the moment they began showing signs and symptoms of having a cold, less people from the Echinacea purpurea group felt that their initial cold symptoms in fact developed into a more severe cold.
There is no scientific evidence that echinacea can prevent colds or flu but perhaps the next time you start sneezing and sniffling try taking echinacea and you could be sneezing and sniffling less!
Please note echinacea has the potential to interact with other medications you might be taking, so talk with your doctor before using echinacea supplements. Echinacea should not be given to children under 12 years old and has not been well studied for use by pregnant or breastfeeding women.