Reduce and Relieve Respiratory Tract Infection with Echinacea

Help decrease antibiotic use with this infection-fighting herb
Echinacea flowers in the garden.
© Can Stock Photo / lonspera

There is perhaps nothing that signals the changing of the seasons for kids more than the dreaded URTI (Upper Respiratory Tract Infection). Extremely common in our smallest family members, between fall and winter it can mean as many as six to eight episodes a season for infants (1–5 years old) and two to four a season in older children (6–12 years old)! Common URTIs are acute infections involving the mucosa from the nose to the lower bronchi, and include colds and flu, sinus and ear infections, coughs, laryngitis, sore throat, and respiratory syncytial virus. But there really is nothing a-cute about them and any parent who’s had to watch their child deal with repeated occurrences of URTIs can tell you they’d do pretty much anything to help their little one avoid the next episode. That’s where Echinacea comes in!

How Echinacea works

Antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and possessing alterative and immunostimulating properties, Echinacea is truly a wonder for resolving conditions that involve the mucous membranes of the mouth, throat, and upper respiratory tract. Both E. angustifolia and E. purpurea contain alkylamides, a compound with notable immune-modulating effects; cichoric acid, which stimulates the body’s removal of pathogens; and in the case of E. angustifolia, echinacoside, a caffeic acid derivative that is believed to have antibiotic effects on strep and staph.

While Echinacea can be used to help reduce the duration and severity of infection, there is also exciting new evidence that suggests Echinacea can also be used as a preventative! Consistent dosing of Echinacea, beginning in the fall and continuing throughout winter, means you may be able to nip that cold in the bud. And if a URTI sneaks through your best defenses, upping the daily dose by three to five times for up to a week can mean lessened severity, shortened duration, and less likelihood of a return visit.

Echinacea’s deep roots

Echinacea has a long history of use by Indigenous cultures in North America. Historically, the root of Echinacea angustifolia was used to heal septic wounds and sores, toothaches, mouth or gum inflammation, sore throats, tonsillitis, cough and respiratory infections, arthritis, rheumatism, and to treat “blood poisons” like snake bites and other venoms. When European settlers came, they learned about the herb’s applications and were quick to adopt it into therapeutic practice, bringing the knowledge back to Europe along with the much easier-to-grow Echinacea purpurea seeds.

Latest Echinacea Research

"In the newest and largest paediatric study of Echinacea, groundbreaking research was presented in Switzerland showing that the use of a specific type of Echinacea derived from fresh, organic Echinacea purpurea was effective in preventing respiratory infections and reducing the risk of complications (such as sinusitis, bronchitis, and pneumonia). Most significantly, those patients who received it had a 76% reduced need for antibiotics!"--Sherry Torkos, pharmacist and author of The Canadian Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine.

Although Echinacea isn’t meant to be a replacement for antibiotics, which are crucial for the treatment of many diseases, its success rate as an immune modulator may very well mean that antibiotics could be prescribed less often for common, general illnesses.

Sore Throat Herbal Gargle

In cases of sore throat, gargling with Echinacea may be a fun way to have children take the herb. I find that Echinacea works best when it makes direct contact with the affected mucous membrane. This recipe, adapted from herbalist, midwife, and MD, Aviva Romm, localizes the healing power of Echinacea to soothe this discomfort.


  • 1 tsp dried sage leaf or 10 drops of sage tincture

  • 20 drops Echinacea tincture (either from E. angustifolia or E. purpurea)

  • ½ tsp sea salt


  1. Steep sage leaf in 1 c boiling water for 10 minutes.

  2. Add Echinacea tincture and sea salt to ¼ of the prepared tea, ensuring tea is still warm but no longer hot.

  3. Gargle. Reserve remaining tea for next gargle session.

Once your little one's throat is feeling better, make sure to serve them these mucous-free foods for a fast recovery from cold and flu.