Echinacea is barely effective against the common cold. This herbal remedy enjoyed a peak of popularity in the past decade when it was touted as a way to treat colds. But in a well-designed new trial, more than 700 people were given Echinacea, placebo, or nothing at all at the first sign of a cold. They were then told to keep careful diaries of their symptoms throughout the duration of the illness.
Although the diaries showed that people taking Echinacea suffered less severe symptoms for a slightly shorter time, the difference was not statistically significant. Over the course of the week or so that the cold lasted, people taking Echinacea got over their symptoms about seven to 10 hours sooner, hardly enough to write home about. Although the results were disappointing, the researchers concluded, “Adults who have found Echinacea to be beneficial should not discontinue use based on the results of this trial, as there are no proven effective treatments and no side effects were seen.”
[Annals of Internal Medicine, Dec. 20, 2010]