A photo of the echinacea plant
Echinacea is one of our top 10 herbal remedies because of its valuable immune boosting properties

Herbal remedies – 10 of the best

12 September, 2011

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Echinacea – an immune stimulant

This immune stimulating herb is amongst the most widely used of natural remedies. Numerous studies in Germany this century have, shown echinacea to be “extremely valuable” in boosting immune system function  (and thus useful for colds, flu, catarrh, bronchial infections and urinary tract infections) and it has a proven ability to enhance immune function.

Root extracts of echinacea also have been shown to possess interferon-like activity as well as anti-viral activity including acting against influenza and herpes. The most recent potential use for echinacea is in the prevention of sun damage to the skin by blocking the transmission of pain from burn receptors.

Unlike some of the other herbs listed here, new studies have shown that echinacea does not work particularly well as a preventative. However, there is evidence to suggest that once you get a cold taking echinacea may help reduce symptoms and shorten its duration. Not all herbalists agree, some believe echinacea initiates a general immune reaction which can result in prevention and indeed many users swear that it works as a preventative for them.


Echinacea contains many active constituents and can be equally useful taken in many different forms, although it is thought the tincture is the most effective as several constituents are only soluble in alcohol.  Try, three times daily: 2-4ml of tincture, a decoction of 1 teaspoon of chopped root in 1 cupful of water simmered for 10 minutes, or 100 to 250 mg of the solid dry powdered plant in capsule form.

Take care

Echinacea has a very low toxicity, but as it is an immunostimulant it should also not be given at the same time as immunosuppressants (e.g. corticosteroids and cyclosporin).

Like all immune stimulating herbs it should only be used when it is needed for instance: when you are run down, or find you are catching one cold after the next, after a hard business trip or, during prolonged periods of stress.


  • Adapted from What Works, What Doesn’t: The guide to alternative healthcare by Pat Thomas. See here for details.