Should echinacea be a staple in your medicine cabinet?

Echinacea has stood the test of time as a natural way to stave off colds and other bugs. So just how effective is it?

North American Indians discovered the healing powers of echinacea and for centuries, it was used as a natural remedy for ailments including snakebites and skin wounds.

Today, the pale purple flower and the leaves, roots and stems of the echinacea plant are more likely to be taken as a supplement or tea to help with colds, flu-like symptoms and infections.

What is echinacea?

There are nine types of echinacea, with three types generally used as herbal remedies.

The plants mostly grow wild in North America and contain a blend of active ingredients.

Some have antimicrobial qualities, while others have antioxidant properties that help fight infections and support a healthy immune system.

The take-home message from our study is that echinacea does have powerful cold prevention and cold treatment benefits.

How does echinacea benefit the immune system?

Echinacea is most widely used today to fight and prevent colds. Studies have shown it increases our white blood cell count and these white cells can help fight infection.

A University of Connecticut study found echinacea cut the chances of catching a cold by 58 per cent and reduced the length of a cold by around 1.4 days.

In Australia, adults usually get two to four colds every year.

“The take-home message from our study is that echinacea does indeed have powerful cold prevention and cold treatment benefits,” writes University of Connecticut Assistant Professor of Pharmacy Craig Coleman.

And if you’re a regular air traveller, echinacea may bring some benefits.

Air quality in the cabin, particularly the dryness, can increase the risk of allergic rhinitis and boost the likelihood of viral or bacterial respiratory infections.

A Griffith University study found echinacea tablets may help reduce the risk of colds and infections when flying.

What to know before you take echinacea

Before you start brewing echinacea tea or taking supplements, speak to your pharmacist for advice.

Echinacea may cause side effects – most commonly nausea and stomach pain. People who have a genetic tendency towards allergic reactions may also react to echinacea.

Get more tips to ward off colds, flu and other infections:

Words by Sarah Marinos