Echinacea is the name of a group of flowering plants in the daisy family.
They’re native to North America where they grow in prairies and open, wooded areas.
Altogether, this group has nine species, but only three are used in herbal supplements — Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida
Both the plant's upper parts and roots are used in tablets, tinctures, extracts and teas.
Echinacea plants contain an impressive variety of active compounds, such as caffeic acid, alkamides, phenolic acids, rosmarinic acid, polyacetylenes and many more
Echinacea plants are loaded with plant compounds that function as antioxidants.
Antioxidants are molecules that help defend your cells against oxidative stress, a state that has been linked to chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease and many others.
Some of these antioxidants are flavonoids, cichoric acid and rosmarinic acid
These antioxidants appear to be higher in extracts from the fruit and flowers of the plants, compared to other parts, such as the leaves and root
In addition, echinacea plants contain compounds called alkamides, which can further enhance antioxidant activity. Alkamides can renew worn-out antioxidants and help antioxidants better reach molecules that are prone to oxidative stress
Research on echinacea suggests that it offers several impressive health benefits.
Echinacea is best known for its beneficial effects on the immune system.
Numerous studies have found that this plant may help your immune system combat infections and viruses, which could help you recover faster from illness
That’s one reason why echinacea is often used to prevent or treat the common cold.
In fact, a review of 14 studies found that taking echinacea may lower the risk of developing colds by more than 50% and shorten the duration of colds by one and a half days
However, many studies on this topic are poorly designed and show no real benefit. This makes it hard to know if any benefits on colds are from taking echinacea or simply from chance
In short, while echinacea may boost immunity, its effects on the common cold are unclear.
High blood sugar can raise your risk of serious health problems.
This includes type 2 diabetes, heart disease and several other chronic conditions.
Test-tube studies have found that echinacea plants may help lower blood sugar levels.
In a test-tube study, an Echinacea purpurea extract was shown to suppress enzymes that digest carbohydrates. This would reduce the amount of sugar entering your blood if consumed (13).
Other test-tube studies found that echinacea extracts made cells more sensitive to insulin's effects by activating the PPAR-y receptor, a common target of diabetes drugs
This particular receptor works by removing excess fat in the blood, which is a risk factor for insulin resistance. This makes it easier for cells to respond to insulin and sugar
Still, human-based research on the effects of echinacea on blood sugar is lacking.
Anxiety is a common problem that affects close to one in five American adults
In recent years, echinacea plants have emerged as a potential aid for anxiety.
Research has discovered that echinacea plants contain compounds that may reduce feelings of anxiety. These include alkamides, rosmarinic acid and caffeic acid
In one mouse study, three out of five echinacea samples helped reduce anxiety. In addition, they did not make the mice less active, in contrast to higher doses of standard treatments
Another study found that Echinacea angustifolia extract rapidly reduced feelings of anxiety in both mice and humans
However, as of now, only a handful of studies on echinacea and anxiety exist. More research is needed before echinacea products can be recommended as a possible treatment.
Inflammation is your body’s natural way of promoting healing and defending itself.
Sometimes inflammation can get out of hand and last for longer than necessary and expected. This may raise your risk of chronic diseases and other health problems.
Several studies have shown that echinacea can help reduce excess inflammation.
In a mouse study, echinacea compounds helped reduce important inflammatory markers and memory-loss caused by inflammation
In another 30-day study, adults with osteoarthritis found that taking a supplement containing echinacea extract significantly reduced inflammation, chronic pain and swelling.
Interestingly, these adults did not respond well to conventional non-stceroidal inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) but found the supplement containing echinacea extract helpful
Research has shown that echinacea plants may help treat common skin concerns.
In a test-tube study, scientists found that echinacea’s anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties suppressed the growth of Propionibacterium, a common cause of acne
In another study in 10 healthy people aged 25–40, skin care products containing echinacea extract were found to improve skin hydration and reduce wrinkles Similarly, a cream containing Echinacea purpurea extract was shown to improve eczema symptoms and help repair the skin’s thin, protective outer layer
However, echinacea extract appears to have a short shelf life, making it difficult to incorporate into commercial skin care products.
Cancer is a disease that involves the uncontrolled growth of cells.
Test-tube studies have shown that echinacea extracts may suppress cancer cell growth and even trigger cancer cell death
In one test-tube study, an extract of Echinacea purpurea and chicoric acid (naturally found in echinacea plants) was shown to trigger cancer cell death
In another test-tube study, extracts from echinacea plants (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia and Echinacea pallida) killed human cancer cells from the pancreas and colon by stimulating a process called apoptosis or controlled cell death
It’s believed that this effect occurs due to echinacea’s immune-boosting properties
There was some concern that echinacea could interact with conventional cancer treatments, such as doxorubicin, but newer studies have found no interaction
That being said, human studies are needed before making any recommendations