Echinacea, a flowering plant that grows in North America, was traditionally used by Native Americans for medicinal purposes, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Today, this herb is promoted as a dietary supplement for the common cold and other infections, per the NCCIH. It’s believed that echinacea contains active compounds that stimulate the immune system, helping shorten cold and flu duration and easing symptoms such as sore throat, cough, and fever, notes Mount Sinai.

However, research on echinacea’s effectiveness is mixed, says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, the New York City–based author of Smoothies & Juices: Prevention Healing Kitchen.

A meta-analysis of 14 studies found that echinacea lowered the odds of developing the common cold by 58 percent and cut the length of illness by one to four days. Meanwhile, in another study, more than 700 people with a new onset common cold were given either echinacea supplements, a placebo, or no pills for five days. Those who received echinacea didn’t see significant improvements in symptoms compared with the other groups. The echinacea group did see an average half-day reduction in the duration of their cold or a 10 percent reduction in severity, however. While not significant, the authors note that these improvements may make echinacea supplementation worthwhile for some people.

How to Enjoy It Echinacea is typically available as a supplement (as an extract, tincture, tablet, or capsule). According to the NCCIH, most adults can safely take echinacea by mouth in the short term. For example, Mount Sinai suggests taking echinacea three times a day while you’re sick; stop once you feel better and make sure not to take it for more than 10 days. However, echinacea can interact with certain medications, so consult your doctor before taking echinacea supplements, Largeman-Roth says. It’s also noteworthy that people who are allergic to daisies should not use echinacea, and people with asthma and allergies may be at a higher risk for complications from the herb, according to Mount Sinai.

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