Medicinal properties of Echinacea: a critical review

Phytomedicine. 2003 Jan;10(1):66-86. doi: 10.1078/094471103321648692.


Preparations from Echinacea purpurea are among the most widely used herbal medicines. Most uses of E. purpurea are based on the reported immunological properties. A series of experiments have demonstrated that E. purpurea extracts do indeed demonstrate significant immunomodulatory activities. Among the many pharmacological properties reported, macrophage activation has been demonstrated most convincingly. Phagocytotic indices and macrophage-derived cytokine concentrations have been shown to be Echinacea-responsive in a variety of assays. Activation of polymorphonuclear leukocytes and natural killer cells has also been reasonably demonstrated. Changes in the numbers and activities of T- and B-cell leukocytes have been reported, but are less certain. Despite this cellular evidence of immunostimulation, pathways leading to enhanced resistance to infectious disease have not been described adequately. Several dozen human experiments--including a number of blind randomized trials--have reported health benefits. The most robust data come from trials testing E. purpurea extracts in the treatment for acute upper respiratory infection. Although suggestive of modest benefit, these trials are limited both in size and in methodological quality. Hence, while there is a great deal of moderately good-quality scientific data regarding E. purpurea, effectiveness in treating illness or in enhancing human health has not yet been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic / therapeutic use*
  • Animals
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Echinacea*
  • Humans
  • Phytotherapy*
  • Plant Extracts / therapeutic use*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Plant Extracts