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Echinacea purpurea 'Maxima'
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Asterids
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Subfamily: Asteroideae
Tribe: Heliantheae
Genus: Echinacea
Moench, 1794

Brauneria Necker ex T.C.Porter & Britton
Helichroa Raf.

The spiny center of the head showing the paleae, from which the name derives

Echinacea [1] is a genus, or group of herbaceous flowering plants in the daisy family. The Echinacea genus has nine species, which are commonly called purple coneflowers. They are found only in eastern and central North America, where they are found growing in moist to dry prairies and open wooded areas. They have large, showy heads of composite flowers, blooming from early to late summer. The generic name is derived from the Greek word ἐχῖνος (echino), meaning "sea urchin," due to the spiny central disk. These flowering plants and their parts have different uses. Some species are cultivated in gardens for their showy flowers. Echinacea purpurea is used in folk medicine.[2] Two of the species, E. tennesseensis and E. laevigata, are listed in the United States as endangered species.[3]

A bee on an Echinacea paradoxa head (inflorescence)
A bee on an Echinacea purpurea head

Researchers at the Agricultural Research Service are using DNA analysis to help determine the number of Echinacea species. The DNA analysis allows researchers to reveal clear distinctions among species based on chemical differences in root metabolites. The research concluded that of the 40 genetically diverse populations of Echinacea studied, there were nine distinct species.[5]


  • Description 1
  • History 2
  • Research and marketing 3
    • Common cold 3.1
    • Cancer 3.2
  • Side effects 4
  • Safety 5
    • Children under 12 years old 5.1
    • Pregnancy 5.2
    • Lactation 5.3
    • General precaution 5.4
  • Other uses 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


Echinacea species are herbaceous, drought-tolerant perennial plants growing up to 140 cm or 4 feet,[6] in height. They grow from taproots, except E. purpurea, which grows from a short caudex with fibrous roots. They have erect stems that in most species are unbranched. Both the basal and cauline (stem) leaves are arranged alternately. The leaves are normally hairy with a rough texture, having uniseriate trichomes (1-4 rings of cells) but sometimes they lack hairs. The basal leaves and the lower stem leaves have petioles, and as the leaves progress up the stem the petioles often decrease in length. The leaf blades in different species may have one, three or five nerves. Some species have linear to lanceolate leaves, and others have elliptic- to ovate-shaped leaves; often the leaves decrease in size as they progress up the stems. Leaf bases gradually increase in width away from the petioles or the bases are rounded to heart shaped. Most species have leaf margins that are entire, but sometimes they are dentate or serrate. The flowers are collected together into single rounded heads at the ends of long peduncles. The inflorescences have crateriform to hemispheric shaped involucres which are 12–40 mm wide. The phyllaries, or bracts below the flower head, are persistent and number 15–50. The phyllaries are produced in a 2–4 series. The receptacles are hemispheric to conic. The paleae (chaffs on the receptacles of many Asteraceae) have orange to reddish purple ends, and are longer than the disc corollas. The paleae bases partially surrounding the cypselae, and are keeled with the apices abruptly constricted to awn-like tips. The ray florets number 8–21 and the corollas are dark purple to pale pink, white, or yellow. The tubes of the corolla are hairless or sparsely hairy, and the laminae are spreading, reflexed, or drooping in habit and linear to elliptic or obovate in shape. The abaxial faces of the laminae are glabrous or moderately hairy. The flower heads have typically 200-300 fertile, bisexual disc florets but some have more. The corollas are pinkish, greenish, reddish-purple or yellow and have tubes shorter than the throats. The pollen is normally yellow in most species, but usually white in E. pallida. The three or four-angled fruits (cypselae), are tan or bicolored with a dark brown band distally. The pappi are persistent and variously crown-shaped with 0 to 4 or more prominent teeth. x = 11.[7]

Like all members of the sunflower family, the flowering structure is a composite inflorescence, with rose-colored (rarely yellow or white) florets arranged in a prominent, somewhat cone-shaped head – "cone-shaped" because the petals of the outer ray florets tend to point downward (are reflexed) once the flower head opens, thus forming a cone. Plants are generally long lived, with distinctive flowers. The common name "cone flower" comes from the characteristic center "cone" at the center of the flower head. The generic name Echinacea is rooted in the Greek word ἐχῖνος (echinos), meaning sea urchin,[8] it references the spiky appearance and feel of the flower heads.


Echinacea angustifolia was widely used by the North American Plains Indians for its supposed medicinal qualities.[9] According to Wallace Sampson, its modern day use as a treatment for the common cold began when a Swiss herbal supplement maker was "erroneously told" that echinacea was used for cold prevention by Native American tribes who lived in the area of South Dakota.[10] Although Native American tribes did not use echinacea to prevent the common cold, some Plains tribes did use echinacea to treat cold symptoms. The Kiowa used it for coughs and sore throats, the Cheyenne for sore throats, the Pawnee for headaches, and many tribes including the Lakotah used it as an analgesic.[11]

Native Americans learned of echinacea by observing elk seeking out the plants and consuming them when sick or wounded, and identified those plants as elk root.[12]

Research and marketing

Echinacea products that are marketed and studied in clinical trials vary widely in composition. They contain different species (E. purpurea, E. angustifolia, E. pallida), different plant segments (roots, flowers, extracts), different preparations (extracts and expressed juice), and different chemical compositions.[13]

Well-controlled clinical trials are limited and low in quality.[14][15][16][17][18] Although there are multiple scientific reviews and meta-analyses published on the supposed immunological effects of echinacea, significant variability of echinacea products used among studies limited conclusions about effects and safety, consequently leading to non-approval of any health benefit or anti-disease activity.[14][15]

Common cold

There is no conclusive evidence showing that echinacea products treat or prevent the common cold.[14][18][19]


According to Cancer Research UK: "There is no scientific evidence to show that echinacea can help treat, prevent or cure cancer in any way. Some therapists have claimed that echinacea can help relieve side effects from cancer treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy, but this has not been proved either."[20]

Side effects

When taken by mouth, Echinacea does not usually cause side effects.[2] One of the most extensive and systematic studies to review the safety of Echinacea products concluded that overall, "adverse events are rare, mild and reversible," with the most common symptoms being "gastrointestinal and skin-related."[21] Such side effects include nausea, abdominal pain, diarrhea, itch, and rash. Echinacea has also been linked to rare allergic reactions, including asthma, shortness of breath, and one case of anaphylaxis.[21][22][23] Muscle and joint pain has been associated with Echinacea, but it may have been caused by cold or flu symptoms for which the Echinacea products were administered.[21] There are isolated case reports of rare and idiosyncratic reactions including thrombocytopenic purpura, leucopenia, hepatitis, kidney failure, and atrial fibrillation, although it is not clear that these were due to Echinacea itself.[24]

There are concerns that by stimulating immune function, Echinacea could potentially exacerbate autoimmune disease and/or decrease the effectiveness of immunosuppressive drugs, but this warning is based on theoretical considerations rather than human data.[24] There have been no case reports of any drug interactions with Echinacea and "the currently available evidence suggests that echinacea is unlikely to pose serious health threats for patients combining it with conventional drugs."[25]


As a matter of manufacturing safety, one investigation by an independent consumer testing laboratory found that five of eleven selected retail Echinacea products failed quality testing. Four of the failing products contained levels of phenols below the potency level stated on the labels. One failing product was contaminated with lead.[26]

Children under 12 years old

Research studies have shown that Echinacea purpurea juice extract is safe in children 2–11 years when used up to 10 days. 7% experienced a rash after taking echinacea, which suggested an allergic reaction. There is concern that the allergic reaction could be more severe in children.[14][27] The European Herbal Medicinal Products Committee (HMPC) and the UK Herbal Medicines Advisory Committee (HMAC) recommended against the use of echinacea containing products in children under the age of 12. Manufacturers re-labelled all oral echinacea products that had product licenses for children with a warning that they should not be given to children under 12 as a precautionary measure.[28]


Although research has not found increased risk of birth defects associated with use of echinacea during the first trimester, it is recommended that pregnant women should avoid echinacea containing products until stronger safety supporting evidence becomes available.[14]


It is recommended that women breastfeeding should avoid echinacea containing products due to insufficient safety information available.[14]

General precaution

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends precaution about using dietary supplements because some products may not be risk free under certain circumstances or may interact with prescription and over-the-counter medicines.[29]

As with any herbal preparation, individual doses of echinacea may vary significantly in chemical composition. Inconsistent process control in manufactured echinacea products may involve poor inter- and intra-batch homogeneity, species or plant part differences, variable extraction methods, and contamination or adulteration with other products, leading to potential for substantial product variability.[18][14][26]

Other uses

Some species of echinacea, notably E. purpurea, E. angustifolia, and E. pallida, are grown as ornamental plants in gardens.[30] Many cultivars exist, and many of them are asexually propagated to keep them true to type.

They tolerate a wide variety of conditions, maintain attractive foliage throughout the season, and multiply rapidly. Appropriate species are used in prairie restorations. Echinacea plants also reseed in the fall. New flowers will grow where seeds have fallen from the prior year.[31]

Echinacea extracts inhibited growth of three species of trypanosomatids: Leishmania donovani, Leishmania major, and Trypanosoma brucei.[32]

See also


  1. ^ Sunset Western Garden Book, 1995:606–607
  2. ^ a b "Echinacea: NCCIH Herbs at a Glance". National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, US National Institutes of Health. September 2015. 
  3. ^ Kelly, Kindscher. "The Conservation Status of Echinacea Species" (PDF). USDA. Retrieved 29 October 2014. 
  4. ^ The Plant List search for Echinacea
  5. ^ Perry, Ann. 2010. Exploring Echinacea’s Enigmatic Origins. United States Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Service
  6. ^ 32
  7. ^ in Flora of North America @"Echinacea". Retrieved 2010-02-01. 
  8. ^  
  9. ^ Wishart, David J. (2007). Encyclopedia of the Great Plains Indians. U of Nebraska Press. p. 156.  
  10. ^ Cuts Colds by HalfEchinaceaStudy: WebMD Health News, June 26, 2007
  11. ^ Moerman, Daniel E. (1998). Native American Ethnobotany. Timber Press. p. 205.  
  12. ^ Edible and Medicinal Plants of the West, Gregory L. Tilford, ISBN 0-87842-359-1
  13. ^ Barnes J, Anderson LA, Gibbons S, Phillipson JD (2005). "Echinacea species (Echinacea angustifolia (DC.) Hell., Echinacea pallida (Nutt.) Nutt., Echinacea purpurea (L.) Moench): a review of their chemistry, pharmacology and clinical properties". J Pharm Pharmacol 57 (8): 929–54.  
  14. ^ a b c d e f g "Echinacea". MedlinePLus, US National Institutes of Health, Bethesda. 2014. Retrieved 15 December 2014. 
  15. ^ a b Hart A, Dey P (2009). "Echinacea for prevention of the common cold: an illustrative overview of how information from different systematic reviews is summarised on the internet". Preventive Medicine 49 (2–3): 78–82.  
  16. ^ Sachin A Shah, Stephen Sander, C Michael White, Mike Rinaldi, Craig I Coleman (July 2007). "Evaluation of echinacea for the prevention and treatment of the common cold: a meta-analysis". The Lancet Infectious Diseases 7 (7): 473–480.  
  17. ^ Woelkart K, Linde K, Bauer R (May 2008). "Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold". Planta Medica 74 (6): 633–7.  
  18. ^ a b c Karsch-Völk M, Barrett B, Kiefer D, Bauer R, Ardjomand-Woelkart K, Linde K (2014). "Echinacea for preventing and treating the common cold". Cochrane Database Syst Rev (Systematic review) 2: CD000530.  
  19. ^ "The Flu, the Common Cold, and the Complementary Health Practices" (PDF). U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved 1 November 2014. 
  20. ^ "Echinacea".  
  21. ^ a b c Huntley AL, Thompson Coon J, Ernst E (2005). "The safety of herbal medicinal products derived from Echinacea species: a systematic review". Drug Saf 28 (5): 387–400.  
  22. ^ Mullins RJ. Echinacea-associated anaphylaxis. Med J Aust 1998;168: 170-171
  23. ^ Ang-Lee MK, Moss J, Yuan CS (July 2001). "Herbal medicines and perioperative care". JAMA 286 (2): 208–16.  
  24. ^ a b "Echinacea (Echinacea angustifolia DC, Echinacea pallida, Echinacea purpurea): Safety". Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2011-09-05. 
  25. ^ Izzo AA, Ernst E (2009). "Interactions between herbal medicines and prescribed drugs: an updated systematic review". Drugs 69 (13): 1777–98.  
  26. ^ a b "Product Review: Echinacea"., LLC. 18 March 2004. Retrieved 2 August 2007. 
  27. ^ Taylor, J. A.; et al. (Dec 2003). "Efficacy and safety of echinacea in treating upper respiratory tract infections in children: a randomized controlled trial". JAMA 290 (21): 2824–2830.  
  28. ^ "Press release: Echinacea herbal products should not be used in children under 12 years old". MHRA. 
  29. ^ "Tips for Dietary Supplement Users". U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Retrieved 1 November 2014. 
  30. ^ "A Comprehensive Echinacea Germplasm Collection Located at the North Central Regional Plant Introduction Station", USDA
  31. ^ Organic Botanics
  32. ^ Canlas J, Hudson JB, Sharma M, Nandan D.,"Echinacea and trypanasomatid parasite interactions: Growth-inhibitory and anti-inflammatory effects of Echinacea". Pharm Biol. 2010 Sep;48(9):1047-52

Further reading

  • Mowrey, Daniel (1998). Echinacea. McGraw-Hill Professional.  

External links

  • Echinacea at DMOZ
  • Website devoted to Echinacea
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