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Can I give Echinacea to my child?
Q: I know a lot of adults who take the herb Echinacea to prevent colds. Is this effective and safe for children?
A: Laura, herbal remedies and nutritional supplements are becoming increasingly popular among adults, and many parents are beginning to give them to their children as well. Echinacea is one of the most popular herbal preparations.

Also known as purple coneflower, Echinacea is a member of the sunflower/daisy family. The most commonly used preparation is made from the root of one type of Echinacea (E. purpura), although herbal preparations vary widely as to which plants and what components are used.

Echinacea is used to prevent and treat colds and other upper respiratory infections. It is thought to work by boosting the immune system. Studies of Echinacea in adults have found that it may be effective—some studies have shown that it is effective and others have not shown that it is effective.

There have been a couple of recent studies of Echinacea in children. One found that it was not effective in treating colds in children ages 2 to 11. It did not lessen the severity of their symptoms nor shorten the number of days they were sick. Another study tested a product called Chizukit, which includes Echinacea, propolis (a plant resin collected by bees) and vitamin C. Parents were assigned to give their 1- to 5-year-old children either Chizukit or a placebo (inactive or fake medicine) twice a day for 12 weeks. The study found that children taking the Chizukit had significantly fewer colds, a little more than half of those suffered by the other children. This study suggests that Echinacea combined with the other products may be effective in preventing colds in children.

Remember, though, we should always be cautious about giving children any medication because there’s always a chance of a bad reaction. Although Echinacea has generally produced few side effects, there have been reports of serious allergic reactions, and anyone with an allergy to a plant in the daisy family (e.g., ragweed, marigold and chrysanthemum) should not take it. We need to especially cautious with herbal remedies and nutritional supplements, which are not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). There is no assurance that the medication has the exact ingredients stated, is free of impurities and is effective or safe.

For more information on the safety of herbal medicine visit the National centre for Complementary and Alternative Medicine http://nccam.nih.gov/health/supplement-safety/index.htm.