Echinacea: What Should I Know About It? Family Doctor Logo

What is echinacea?

Echinacea (say: “eck-in-ay-sha”) is an herbal product that may help the body defend itself from the viruses that cause colds, sore throats, and the flu. You can find echinacea products in most drug stores or health food stores.

How should I use echinacea?

Follow the directions on the package label, or talk to your doctor before you buy an herbal product. Don’t take echinacea on an empty stomach. Instead, take it with food or a large glass of water. Do not take echinacea for more than 2 weeks without talking to your doctor first.

How do I safely take echinacea?

Read the directions on the supplement label to learn how much to take and how often to take it. If you have any questions about how much to take, call your family doctor or pharmacist.

Follow these tips to make sure you are taking the right amount of echinacea:

  • If you are taking a prescription medicine, ask your doctor if it’s okay to also take echinacea.
  • Take only the amount recommended on the label. Don’t assume that more echinacea will work better or quicker. Taking more than the recommended amount can be dangerous.

How can I safely store echinacea?

Store all herbal products up and away, out of reach and sight of young children. Keeping these products in a cool, dry place will help prevent them from becoming less effective before their expiration dates. Do not store them in bathrooms or bathroom cabinets, which are often hot and humid.

Can echinacea cause any side effects?

Minor side effects can include an upset stomach, nausea, and dizziness. Serious side effects can include worsening of asthma symptoms, and allergic reactions such as rash, swelling, and difficulty breathing. If you have a history of an allergy to daisies, ragweed, marigolds, chrysanthemums, or related plants, you may be more at risk of having an allergic reaction to echinacea. Talk to your doctor right away about any side effects you are having.

Who should not take echinacea?

If you are regularly taking other medicines or are being treated for a chronic condition, check with your doctor before taking echinacea. Echinacea may interact with medicines and reduce their effectiveness or cause unwanted side effects. You should also tell your doctor if you drink alcohol, if you smoke, or if you use illegal drugs. These substances may affect the way echinacea works.

Do not take echinacea if you have any of the following conditions:

You should not take echinacea if you are also taking immunosuppressants because echinacea may interact with these medicines. If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, talk with your doctor before you start taking echinacea.


  • Echinacea by B Kligler, M.D., M.P.H.(American Family Physician 01/01/03)