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Echinacea purpurea
Echinacea purpurea
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Magnoliophyta
Class: Magnoliopsida
Order: Asterales
Family: Asteraceae
Tribe: Heliantheae
Genus: Echinacea
See text

Echinacea is a genus of nine species of flowering plants in the Family Asteraceae, all native to eastern North America.

The spiny flower center from which the name derives
The spiny flower center from which the name derives

The genus name is from the Greek echino, meaning "spiny", due to the spiny central disk. They are herbaceous, drought-tolerant perennial plants growing to 1 or 2 m in height. The leaves are lanceolate to elliptic, 10-20 cm long and 1.5-10 cm broad. Like all Asteraceae, the flowers are a composite inflorescence, with purple (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.

The species of Echinacea are:

  • Echinacea angustifolia - Narrow-leaf Coneflower
    Echinacea atrorubens - Topeka Purple Coneflower
    Echinacea laevigata - Smooth Coneflower, Smooth Purple Coneflower
    Echinacea pallida - Pale Purple Coneflower
    Echinacea paradoxa - Yellow Coneflower, Bush's Purple Coneflower
    Echinacea purpurea - Purple Coneflower, Eastern Purple Coneflower
    Echinacea sanguinea - Sanguin Purple Coneflower
    Echinacea simulata - Wavyleaf Purple Coneflower
    Echinacea tennesseensis - Tennessee Coneflower


Some species of Echinacea, notably E. purpurea, E. angustifolia, and E. pallida, are grown as ornamental plants in gardens. It tolerates a wide variety of conditions, maintains attractive foliage throughout the season, and multiplies rapidly. Appropriate species are used in prairie restorations. Some species are used by domestic stock for forage; an abundance of these plants on rangeland supposedly indicates "good health".

Echinacea rhizome was used by North American Plains Indians, perhaps more than most other plants, for various herbal remedies. In the 1930's "Echinacea" became popular in both Europe and America as a herbal medicine. Echinacea has been attributed with the ability to boost the body's immune system and ward off infections, particularly the common cold. Depending on which species is used, herbal medicinals can be prepared from the above-ground parts and/or the root. It is not known which of echinacea's many chemical components might be responsible for its touted health benefits, although all species possess compounds of a chemical class called phenols (as do most other plants). Cichoric and caftaric acids are phenols that are present in E. purpurea; echinacoside is a phenol found in higher levels within E. angustifolia and E. pallida roots. When making herbal remedies, these phenols can serve as markers to evaluate the quantity of echinacea in the product. Other constituents that may be important include alkamides and polysaccharides.

A medical study (Taylor et al. 2003[1].) demonstrated that echinacea products made from the entire plant (not just the root), and taken after the second cold symptom appeared, provided no measurable beneficial effect for children in treating the severity or duration of symptoms caused by the common cold virus. Studies by the University of Virginia School of Medicine (Turner, 2005 [2]) confirmed these results, and added that Echinacea had no clinically significant effects on the common cold even if taken immediately upon infection, or as a prophylaxis starting a week prior to symptoms of infection. However, a University of Maryland review of available studies concluded that Echinacea, when taken at first sign of a cold, reduced cold symptoms or shortened their duration. This conclusion was based on 13 European studies. The University of Maryland also found that three of four studies concluded that taking Echinacea to prevent a cold was ineffective. Echinacea may, however, be useful when treating Athlete's foot with Econazole, or in cancer treatment[3]

Echinacea herbals should not be taken by persons with progressive systemic and auto-immune disorders such as tuberculosis, leicosis, connective tissue disorders, collagenosis, and related diseases such as lupus erythematosus, according to the German Kommission E. Its use in AIDS or against opportunistic infections in AIDS patients is controversial: the Kommission E recommend against it, but this seems to be on theoretical rather than clinical grounds [4]. It should not be used with other known hepatotoxic drugs such as anabolic steroids, amiodarone (Pacerone or Cordarone), methotrexate, or ketoconazole (Nizoral). [5].


  1. ^ "Efficacy and safety of echinacea in treating upper respiratory tract infections in children: a randomized controlled trial", Taylor, J. A., et al. 2003., Journal of the American Medical Association 2003 Dec 3;290(21):2824-30
  2. ^ "An evaluation of Echinaceae angustifolia in experimental rhinovirus infections." Turner, R. B. et al. 2005., New England Journal of Medicine 353: 341-348..
  3. ^ University of Maryland Echinacea Study Review
  4. ^ Mayo Clinic report
  5. ^ Herbal medicines. "Selected clinical considerations focusing on known or potential drug-herb interactions.", Miller, Lucinda G., 1998, Archives of Internal Medicine 158: 2200-2211.

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