The herb echinacea is one of the most popular alternative medicine remedies. Echinacea is reputed to help prevent common colds and make them less severe when they do hit. But is this true? And is it safe to give echinacea to your child?
Used in the United States and Canada for years, echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea angustifolia) is actually a member of the daisy family. Tablet supplements, tea leaves, and liquid extracts are made from its stem, flower, roots, and leaves.
Despite its popularity, no scientific studies have conclusively shown that echinacea will prevent a cold. A few studies have supported modest benefits from echinacea supplements after a cold has started, but many researchers feel that the benefits of using this herb are unfounded. One of the challenges to conducting such medical research is examining the differences between the parts of the herb and how it is used in its various formulations. And there are no studies of echinacea in children, although this is not uncommon: it’s considered unethical to test supplements and drugs in children.
There is no standard accepted dose of echinacea, in part because there is no agreement that it’s beneficial and the different parts of the plant are used in different ways. If you do choose to take echinacea, it’s best to follow the manufacturer’s directions on the label. Common side effects include upset stomach, diarrhea, or drowsiness. Some people who are allergic to plants in the daisy family, such as ragweed or marigolds, may experience an allergic reaction resulting in a rash. Asthma sufferers and people on heart medications should avoid taking echinacea.
Bottom line? A few studies have found echinacea to be moderately helpful, but many more studies have uncovered no benefits. Be sure to tell your healthcare provider if you plan to try an echinacea supplement, especially if you are pregnant or breastfeeding as it has not been studied in pregnant women or children. It could cause side effects or could interact with other medications you take. And to be on the safe side, it’s not recommended to give echinacea to children.
Reviewed by Dr. Kristie Rivers, November 2018
- The New England Journal of Medicine
- An Evaluation of Echinacea angustifolia in Experimental Rhinovirus Infections.
The Mayo Clinic
- Echinacea: Is it effective for the common cold?
National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- Three Studies Find Echinacea Ineffective Against the Common Cold.
Annals of Internal Medicine
- Echinacea for Treating the Common Cold: A Randomized Trial.
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