Modern research is still divided on the effectiveness of Echinacea, and there are some contraindications (like autoimmune disease). I personally rarely use this herb anymore, but many people love this traditional remedy.
Of course, it is important to check with a doctor or medical professional before using this or any herb, especially in cases of disease, medical problems, pregnancy or in children.
Some sources claim that this traditional herb may be helpful for those with cancer, though more research is certainly needed.
The immune supporting benefits are much more studied, though again, this can be a double-edged sword for those with autoimmune disease. A meta-analysis of data from the University of Connecticut showed Echinacea may reduce the likelihood of getting a common cold by over half. Even more promising, it also reduced the duration of common colds by over a day on average.
The book Nutritional Herbology points out:
The proven actions of Echinacea are due to water-soluble polysaccharides. They act by sequestering the attacks of various microbes and allow the body to heal itself. Upon reaching an infected area, the polysaccharides have an immunostimulant effect, which results in the production of leucocytes (white blood cells). The resulting phagocytic action of the leucocytes effectively eradicates a number of infectious organisms.
In other words, Echinacea can help encourage the immune system which may lead to faster recovery from illness, but this can be harmful for those with autoimmune disease. For those without autoimmune disease, there is some evidence that echinacea can help lessen the symptoms of milk illnesses.
WebMD reports common uses:
Echinacea is widely used to fight infections, especially the common cold and other upper respiratory infections. The people who use echinacea to treat symptoms have the right idea. Research to date shows that echinacea probably modestly reduces cold symptoms, but it’s not clear whether it helps prevent colds from developing.
It is also used against many other infections including the flu, urinary tract infections, vaginal yeast infections, genital herpes, bloodstream infections (septicemia), gum disease, tonsillitis, streptococcus infections, syphilis, typhoid, malaria, and diphtheria.
As I mentioned, I rarely use this particular remedy anymore. Those with autoimmune disease should be careful in using Echinacea or many other herbs. Chris Kresser explains:
Why? Because autoimmune disease is not only extremely complex, but also highly individualized. Hashimoto’s in one person is not the same as Hashimoto’s in the next person. In one person, Hashimoto’s could present as a Th1-dominant condition. In another, it may present as Th2 dominant. In still another, both the Th1 and Th2 systems might be overactive, or under-active. And each of these cases requires a different approach. For example, botanicals like echinacea and astragalus stimulate the Th1 system. If someone with Th1 dominant Hashimoto’s takes these herbs, they’ll quite possibly get worse. On the other hand, antioxidants like green tea and Gotu Kola stimulate the Th2 system, and would be inappropriate for those with Th2 dominant Hashimoto’s.
I only use Echinacea if absolutely needed with my Hashimotos and usually turn to Vitamin C and garlic instead. If you suspect an autoimmune condition, make sure to only use immune stimulating herbs under a doctor’s care.