Herbal Therapies Used by People Living With HIV: Echinacea

Part of A Practical Guide to Herbal Therapies for People Living With HIV

Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea, Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pollida and several other species) is a North American plant that has been used for centuries by native North American healers. It is widely available and promoted as a way to boost the immune system and treat the common cold.

A review by the German government's Commission E (a panel of experts who review herbal therapies for approval) supports the use of echinacea in treating colds and flu. It is not clear, however, whether echinacea helps the immune system overcome HIV infection. Instead, echinacea may actually increase the body's production of HIV because of the specific way it stimulates the immune system.

The commission stated in its report that echinacea should not be used by HIV+ people. Other naturopaths and herbalists continue to debate whether the plant is safe for temporary use in HIV-positive people - to treat a cold, for example - and whether it may have some longer term use in increasing CD4+ cell number. This debate has become increasingly complex as people with HIV are using antiretroviral drugs to suppress the production of HIV. Echinacea may interact with some antiretroviral drugs.

Echinacea comes in liquid, tincture, pill or capsule form. It is commonly mixed with other herbs. You may want to make sure that any herbal mixtures you take on an ongoing basis do not contain echinacea.