Echinacea is an extract from a plant native to the prairies of North America which is taken as an herbal supplement to boost your immune system, protect your body from infection, and speed your recovery when you get sick.
It was used by Native Americans for hundreds of years for its medicinal properties, and clinical research has begun to explore the science behind its use as an immune system booster.
If you want a stronger immune system and greater protection against the common cold and other upper respiratory infections, echinacea might be the solution you’re looking for.
Our experts have reviewed and ranked the ten best echinacea supplements on the market.
1. NOW Echinacea
NOW Echinacea is a dead-simple way to boost your immune function. With 400 mg of echinacea plant material per cellulose capsule, this is a vegan-friendly and very pure supplement.
The only additional ingredient is a small amount of vegetable-derived stearic acid to hold the capsule together.
2. Puritan’s Pride Echinacea
Puritan’s Pride Echinacea is about as pure as you can get. Each capsule has 400 mg of echinacea root extract in a gelatin capsule. The other ingredients? Absolutely nothing.
Though strict vegetarians and vegans won’t like the animal-derived gelatin, pretty much everyone else is going to have a very hard time finding anything wrong with this supplement.
3. Herb Pharm Echinacea Immune Support
Herb Pharm Echinacea Immune Support is a liquid-form echinacea supplement that has the additional benefit of being certified organic.
When dealing with a raw extract from plant material, this is particularly attractive, as you don’t want pesticides or herbicides in a supplement like this.
While measuring out droplets isn’t going to give you as accurate of a dosage as you’d get in a capsule, this is still a solid pick for those who want a pure echinacea extract delivered as easily as possible.
4. Vitacost Echinacea
Vitacost Echinacea is the way to go if you want a higher dosage. At 600 mg of echinacea root extract per capsule, it’s head and shoulders above most other echinacea supplements.
Whether you actually need a dosage this high is less clear; according to the research, not everyone does.
5. Solaray Echinacea with Vitamin C and Zinc
Solaray Echinacea with Vitamin C and Zinc attempts to deliver echinacea alongside a range of other compounds that boost immune function.
This includes, as the name suggests, vitamin C and zinc, which have both been studied for their ability to fight infections, but also rose hips, bioflavonoids, and hesperidin concentrate.
Whether these add much beyond the benefits of echinacea is unknown, but it might be worth a shot if usual echinacea supplements aren’t doing the trick for you.
6. Gaia Herbs Echinacea Supreme
Gaia Herbs Echinacea Supreme uses a proprietary blend of two different species of echinacea: echinacea purpurea (the usual type that’s included and has been tested in clinical research) and echinacea angustifolia, which is less well-studied.
The proprietary blend makes it hard to determine precise dosage, so following the clinically validated dosing programs is going to be more difficult with this supplement.
7. Nature Made Echinacea
Nature Made Echinacea standardizes its content of the active ingredients in echinacea, but the main downside to this supplement is that the dosage is lower than average, at only 350 mg per capsule.
The supplement design is okay, but other echinacea supplements outclass this one when it comes to dosage and purity.
8. Nature’s Way Echinacea Goldenseal
Nature’s Way Echinacea Goldenseal is an herbal combination of not just two, but seven different herbal compounds intended to boost your immune function.
This includes echinacea and goldenseal, as well as an echinacea relative, burdock, gentian, cayenne pepper, and wood betony.
The only issue with this strategy is that these ingredients are mixed together in a proprietary blend, so you can’t tell how much of each herb is included in the supplement, making dosing decisions difficult.
9. Amazon Brand Vitamin C with Echinacea
Amazon is a major supplement vendor, but it’s new to the supplement manufacturing business. It’s got an echinacea supplement that combines 400 mg of echinacea root with 60 mg of vitamin C for an additional boost to the immune system, but its cellulose-based capsules are a bit bloated with binders.
It’s a decent choice if you want vitamin C alongside echinacea, but it’s outclassed by several other supplements.
10. Best Naturals Echinacea & Goldenseal Root
Best Naturals Echinacea & Goldenseal Root has the same herbal combination you’ll find in several other echinacea and goldenseal combinations (burdock and cayenne in addition to both species of echinacea).
However, the ingredients are not only obscured behind a proprietary blend; the actual dosage of this blend is not very high. Most people would be better-suited by a different supplement, even if they wanted a combined herbal formulation.
Echinacea benefits and side effects
Echinacea has a long history of use as a therapeutic agent to improve immune system function. Its active ingredients appear to modulate immune activity in your body, which could result in protection from infections like the common cold, and a more rapid recovery after getting sick.
Echinacea is sometimes combined with other supplements that also boost immune function, like zinc and vitamin C. Is echinacea worth adding to the list of supplements to take when you are sick? We’ll look at the scientific research.
According to the CDC, the average adult gets approximately two to three colds a year and kids get sick even more (1). While there is no cure for a cold, many rely on echinacea to prevent or help shorten the duration of symptoms.
There has been much debate about whether or not this herb makes a difference. Clinical trials are split; some show echinacea’s remarkable recovery rates and others reveal very little to no effect at all.
There appears to be a positive effect of echinacea on sickness frequency and in accelerating the rate of recovery; however, researchers stress that the effect size is not large and these claims are highly variable.
Some attribute this inconsistency due to the use of different plant species, extraction methods and the addition of other components (2).
Studies show echinacea’s benefit in decreasing the incidence and duration of the common cold. A 2007 meta-analysis evaluated the effect of echinacea on the incidence and duration of the common cold. Fourteen studies were included in the meta-analysis. Overall, it was assessed that echinacea decreased the odds of developing the common cold by 58 percent and the duration of a cold by 1.4 days (3).
In another meta-analysis, researchers found that the likelihood of experiencing a cold was 55 percent higher with placebo than with Echinacea (4).
In a 2006 review, published in The Cochrane Database of Systemic Reviews, researchers set out to investigate whether there is evidence that echinacea preparations are: more effective than no treatment; more effective than placebo; and similarly effective to other treatments in the prevention and the treatment of the common cold.
Three comparisons investigated the prevention of colds and 19 comparisons tested echinacea’s treatment of colds. A variety of different echinacea preparations were used.
The results of their analysis revealed that none of the three comparisons in the prevention trials showed an effect over placebo.
When comparing an echinacea preparation with placebo as treatment, a significant effect was reported in nine comparisons, a trend in one, and no difference in six (5).
Echinacea helps to reduce duration of symptoms in adults. A 2001 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial was performed on 80 men and women showing the first signs of a cold.
In those treated with echinacea purpurea herb, the median time of illness was six days compared to nine days in the placebo group. It was also well tolerated in the participants (6).
Echinacea was not, however, effective in treating upper respiratory tract infections in children. Healthy children two to 11 years old were recruited and randomized to take either echinacea or placebo for up to three upper respiratory tract infections over a four-month period.
Studies were begun at the onset of symptoms and continued throughout the upper respiratory tract infection, for a maximum of 10 days.
Results showed that there was no difference in the overall estimate of severity of upper respiratory tract infection symptoms between the two treatment groups.
In addition, there were no significant differences between the two groups for peak severity of symptoms, number of days of peak symptoms or number of days of fever (7).
Rash occurred during 7.1 percent of the infections treated with echinacea and 2.7 percent of those treated with placebo.
Other studies produced equally conflicting results. A 2005 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine indicated that extracts of echinacea angustifolia root, either alone or in combination, did not have significant effects on rhinovirus infection (8).
On the other hand, a 2004 study using another echinacea composition — purpurea (2.5 mL three times per day, for seven days before and seven days after intranasal inoculation with rhinovirus type 39) — to evaluate its ability prevent infection with rhinovirus showed promising results.
Colds developed at a rate of 82 percent in placebo recipients and only 58 percent in those given echinacea purpurea (9).
Echinacea has been shown to reduce anxiety. Twenty-two healthy adults scoring high on the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI) were give one or two tablets a day (20 mg each) of Echinacea angustifolia extract for seven days.
The group taking two tablets a day (40 mg) reported decreased STAI scores within three days. The effects remained for the duration of the seven-day treatment and for the two weeks that followed treatment.
The lower dose (20 mg) did not affect anxiety significantly (10).
Essential oils from extracts of Echinacea purpurea have anti-inflammatory effects. The anti-inflammatory potential was evaluated in vivo by using different animal models with three serial dosages used: low, medium and high dosage.
All three dosages of extracts produced inhibitions of 39 percent, 47 percent and 45 percent respectively in the ear edema induced by xylene when compare with the control group.
Only the high dosage group showed statistically significant inhibition (49 percent) of paw edema compared with the control group; Moreover, the granulation formation (area of inflammation in tissue) model was also significantly reduced the most (by 29 percent) in the high dose group compared with the control group (11,12).
There are generally no adverse effects of echinacea supplementation. There is, however, a correlation between an allergy to ragweed and echinacea. Therefore, those with a known allergy to ragweed may experience such side effects as dry eyes, hives and rash.
Other side effects may include headache, dizziness, nausea, constipation and mild stomach pain (13).
There have been isolated case reports of serious side effects, including severe acute hepatitis in a 45-year-old man linked to the ingestion of daily high doses of echinacea; Severe thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (a rare, serious blood disease) in a 32-year-old male following ingestion of echinacea to alleviate upper respiratory tract infection symptoms; and Asymptomatic leukopenia (decrease in white blood cell) in a 51-year-old woman following chronic use of echinacea (14).
The proper dosage depends on the species of echinacea being used as well as the form: liquid or capsules.
Echinacea purpurea in dehydrated powder (capsule form) is taken in doses of 300mg three time a day as well as 500mg three times a day.
Liquid forms of ethanolic extract leaves and stems are used in the concentration of 2.5mL three times a day or up to 10mL a day.
Echinacea is an herb that has long been taken to prevent and treat the common cold. Clinical studies show conflicting information on its efficacy. There is some evidence that certain preparations of echinacea species might be effective for the early treatment of colds in adults but results are not fully consistent.
Some attribute this inconsistency due to the use of different plant species, extraction methods and the addition of other components.
Further clinical studies are required to confirm which echinacea preparations are most effective and in what form.
Some studies also show echinacea’s promising anti-inflammation and anti-anxiety effects.