Some companies manufacture echinacea spray preparations as topical antiseptics for infections and wounds, while other formulations are designed as throat sprays for the relief of allergy, cold, and flu symptoms. The plant comes from the aster family and for centuries was a common part of Native American herbal pharmaceuticals. As herbal preparations do not fall under federal regulation, physicians caution that formulations may or may not contain the actual ingredients listed. Over-the-counter formulas often contain a number of herbal ingredients in addition to echinacea.
Herbal manufacturers may use one or a combination of three different plant species when making echinacea formulations. Echinacea angustifolia, Echinacea pallida, and Echinacea purpurea are the three commonly used variations of the plant also known as the coneflower. Spiky seeds are found in the center, or seed head, creating a conical appearance to the indigenous North American plant, which resembles a daisy. Manufacturers use the flowers, leaves, and roots for concocting the supplement. Studies indicate the flowers and leaves contain alkamides, flavonoids, and glycoproteins, while the roots contain polysacaccharides.
Research differs as to which part of the plant offers the most benefit. Some scientists contend that the plant has no medicinal properties, but Native Americans have used echinacea topically to fight or prevent infection of skin wounds. Modern formulations of echinacea spray bear labels indicating that it can be used for scratches, scrapes, and insect bites. Individuals generally spray the affected area several times a day as needed.
Exploration of the uses of echinacea as a cold and flu preventative did not occur until after a Swedish herbalist studied the plant's use among the Native American people. While the Native Americans used the plant as a topical preparation for preventing or treating infections, the researcher created a formulation of echinacea that was claimed to act as an immune system booster and a viral preventative. The plant was then made available for oral ingestion in the form of extracts, capsules, and tablets. Many believe the chemicals contained in the echinacea plant also aid in the alleviation of inflammation and pain, which influenced the development of an oral throat spray.
One study compared the efficacy of echinacea spray, which also contained sage, as a treatment for sore throat discomfort, to a commonly used preparation containing chlorhexadine and lidocaine. According to this study, both remedies proved effective in alleviating sore throat symptoms. Patients sprayed their throat twice with the echinacea spray, every two hours or up to 10 times a day.
Echinacea spray might also contain goldenseal, hyssop, and olive leaf. Other preparations contain propolis, sage, or St. John’s Wort. While echinacea does not generally interact with other medications, other herbal ingredients may. Echinacea may cause abdominal discomfort and diarrhea, and individuals with plant allergies, particularly to daisies or marigolds, may experience reactions to echinacea spray that range from mild symptoms to life threatening anaphylaxis.