Echinacea comprises nine species of which the most common are the following: E. angustifolia, E. purpurea and E. pallida. Echinacea was used as medicine by Native Americans, also known as prairie coneflower or Kansas snakeroot. It is one of the top selling herbal products in Canada and the United States.
Echinacea contains many chemicals, such as caffeic acid derivatives, polysaccharides, glycoproteins and alkylamides. The properties of Echinacea are anti-viral, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal.
This study was done to try to clear up confusion about the safety of echinacea during pregnancy and lactation. The authors did a complete review of the medical literature in seven electronic databases.
Oral echinacea use does not cause birth defects during the first three months of pregnancy. There is a potential for interactions between echinacea and immunosuppressant drugs.
The authors found strong evidence for the benefit of using echinacea in treating and in preventing upper respiratory disease. There is strong evidence for the benefit of echinacea in radiation-associated low white counts (leucopenia). There is fair evidence for the use of echinacea in increasing cancer survival time.
CONCLUSION: There is low level evidence for safety of echinacea when used during pregnancy and lactation. The authors advise caution with echinacea during breastfeeding until further studies are done.
NOTE: Echinacea has shown benefit against cancer, but because of possible interactions between echinacea and immunosuppressant drugs, echinacea should not be taken with most chemotherapy.
Lovage and parsley should be avoided during pregnancy.
Caffeic acid is a phenolic compound that is anti-cancer anti-oxidant and found in vegetables, fruits and herbs. Glycoproteins are proteins combined with polysaccharides, which are complex carbohydrates (including starches and sugars). Alkylamides are a new class of chemicals found in echinacea.