Echinacea has been used by many people, including Native Americans, to help fight infections. While echinacea does not kill bacteria or viruses directly, it does strengthen the immune system to attack these 'germs'. And it does work. Isabel, my silver Persian, has had a runny nose lately, probably from a chronic sinus infection. So, for about a week, I have been adding drops of echinacea to her food. That's really all I have changed and now, her nose is clearing. While this may be a coincidence in some people's view, I have seen this occur with other problems -- from URI to abscesses. For infections, this is a great herb to use.
But there is the problem -- it does work. And if it works on one thing, then there are people that suggest it to be used on everything! I've seen claims that it will cure ringworm, cancer, and even stud tail in cats. I personally think it might help, but I doubt it would cure any of those three without some other medicine. Echinacea's effects are noticeable, but with very serious infections or diseases, it generally does not seem strong enough on it's own. Still, if you look in a grocery store, there it will be.
Unfortunately, what is in the grocery store may not be the most helpful. The cheap, common version is powdered leaves and stems compressed into a tablet. There's two problems: First, the buyer has little way of knowing how much active herb is in the tablet. Second, leaves are considered less potent. From my readings and my own use, it's the roots which are the most effective. And they are the most effective as an extract in alcohol. The glycerate form is fine and a bit more palatable to cats, but does spoil quicker. (Extracts can remain usable for over 5 years!)
There are two constraints when I use echinacea. First, since it boosts the immune system, the immune system must be functioning to some degree. Some conditions like FeLV so destroy the immune system that there is little left to work with. Other problems such as cancer, overwhelm the immune system. In either case, echinacea can help but I wouldn't use it as the primary treatment option. Second, since it boosts the immune system, it can only be given in short cycles and not as daily treatment. What I mean is, after 2-3 weeks, it's effectiveness diminishes, so I have to rest the cat's immune system for at least a week before again using the echinacea. Many books recommend 3 on, 1 off, but I've found 2 on, 1 off to be better for most minor problems.
Here's how I used echinacea to treat Isabel's nose:
- I used it because this was a minor, not-life-threatening and chronic infection
- I use the glycerate extract from roots, which she doesn't mind
- I give her 2-4 drops mixed in food, twice a day for 2 weeks, then I'll stop for a week before giving her another round
Mandatory disclaimer: I am not a vet. If your cat is sick or injured, take your cat to a vet. The information I have here is what I do for my cats.