What Is Echinacea Tea?

Registered Dietitian By Carlene Thomas, R.D.
Registered Dietitian
Carlene Thomas is a registered dietitian nutritionist and licensed dietitian nutritionist. She received a B.S. in dietetics from James Madison University.

If you feel a seasonal cold coming on, you’re probably looking for any way possible to fight it off. One supplement you may have heard about for treating seasonal illnesses, like the cold or flu, is echinacea tea and echinacea supplements. Can taking echinacea treat the common cold, flu symptoms, and other infections? Should you be drinking echinacea tea? Here’s what you need to know:

What is echinacea tea?

Echinacea tea and echinacea supplements are derived from a plant native to North America. It’s actually nothing new! In fact, there is evidence echinacea may have been used for more than 400 years in traditional Native American medicine as a "cure-all" remedy for everything from wounds to infections. Today echinacea tea (and other forms of echinacea) are used as supplements for the common cold and other infections based on the premise that it may stimulate the immune system to work harder to fight infections, says the University of Maryland Medical Center. If you read echinacea tea claims, you’ll see it is used to both shorten the length of a cold and reduce symptoms. Hand raised if you are looking for both right now.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, both the roots, leaves, and other parts of the plant are used to make echinacea supplements. Although there are several species of echinacea, you’ll most frequently see Echinacea purpurea or Echinacea angustifolia being used in products. Because aboveground parts of this plant contain more of the compounds that trigger immune system activity, these parts of the plant are most effective for echinacea tea.

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Why don't more people drink echinacea tea?

So why aren’t we using more echinacea during cold and flu season? After antibiotic usage became more mainstream in the United States, the popularity of echinacea declined. However, in other countries like Germany (where the majority of echinacea research is done), echinacea supplements are approved by the government for cold treatment and upper respiratory tract infections. And let’s be real: We should be supporting more research like this here. Antibiotics should not be thrown around like confetti.

But does echinacea tea work?

The answer isn’t so clear. According to the National Institutes of Health, if you take echinacea after catching a cold, it won’t shorten the length of time you’re sick. But don’t despair! If you take it pre-emptively during cold season, or while you’re around sick friends, it may reduce your chances of catching that cold. And while we’re on that topic, so will washing your hands and backing out of plans with said friends (maybe it’s Netflix-on-the-couch night with an extra shot of vitamin C!).

A clinical review showed taking echinacea tea and supplements decreased chances of developing a cold by just under 60 percent. It also shortened the length of a cold by between 1 and 4 days. Another study found people who had early symptoms of a cold or flu who drank multiple cups of echinacea tea daily for five days felt better sooner than those who drank a tea without echinacea. Other studies, however, say echinacea tea and supplements have no impact at all.

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The bottom line?

Echinacea tea and other forms of echinacea are still being researched, but if you want the benefits based on our current knowledge, use echinacea for preventing that cold that’s making the rounds.

Want more tea? This is the official ranking of the healthiest types.

And are you ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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