What Are the Health Benefits of Echinacea Tea?

Echinacea is a flowering herb native to North America. Originally used by Native Americans in the Great Plains to treat a variety of infections, use of the herb was adopted by white settlers. Doctors began prescribing echinacea during the 1880s and it was listed in the U.S. National Formulary from 1916 to 1950. The discovery of antibiotics displaced echinacea as a medical remedy.

How Does It Work?

Laboratory studies indicate that while echinacea demonstrates anti-fungal activity, it does not appear to have anti-viral or anti-bacterial actions. There is research evidence that echinacea stimulates the body's immune system to increase the production of white blood cells and T-lymphocytes. In effect, echinacea boosts the immune system so it can effectively respond to viral and bacterial invaders. There is currently no clinical evidence that this reaction occurs in humans.

Echinacea Uses

There is anecdotal evidence that if echinacea is taken at the onset of cold or flu symptoms, it shortens the duration of the illness. It should be taken for seven to 10 days but not for longer than two weeks. It has also been shown to be effective in treating yeast infections and may shorten the duration of bladder or urinary tract infections. Taking echinacea at times when the immune system may be stressed, for instance when traveling, may help prevent viral and bacterial infections.

Echinacea Tea

Echinacea is available at pharmacies and herbal stores as tablets, tinctures, extracts and teas. While there is no evidence that any particular form of echinacea is more beneficial than another, echinacea tea can alleviate some of the symptoms of colds and flu. The tea is nearly flavorless and other herbs are added to some commercial preparations to enhance the taste. Zinc may be added to commercial blended teas because zinc also boosts immune function and is thought to enhance the effects of echinacea.

Cardiff University Common Cold Centre Study

Results of this double blind study, published in 2012, showed evidence that echinacea, when taken in liquid three times a day for four months, may prevent colds. The duration of colds in patients taking echinacea was 26% shorter than in patients using the placebo. There was about a 60% reduction in the number of recurrent colds in individuals with a history of weak immune systems. Other studies have yielded conflicting evidence, but the Cardiff University study is the largest clinical trial for echinacea to date.

Other Benefits of Echinacea Tea

In addition to evidence that echinacea tea may prevent colds or reduce the duration and severity of symptoms, echinacea has anti-inflammatory properties that may alleviate swelling of tissues in the nose, throat and sinuses. Since patients suffering from viral infections like colds and flu are urged to drink plenty of fluids, it makes sense to take echinacea as an infusion or tea rather than in tablet or tincture form when fighting a cold.

Until recently, medical doctors and researchers discounted the efficacy of herbal and folk remedies, but evidence now indicates some of mama's old standbys, like chicken soup, are effective in treating colds and flu. It has been established that echinacea tea is safe for most people and regular use may aid in preventing some viral infections.