Ignoring the doping debate (for my own sanity), if you actually look at the main ingredients, the claims, and the papers backing the claims; then you can conclude that there have been several misunderstandings and inaccurate conclusions drawn.
In summary, 8g of echinacea per day, plus some b vits and other vitamins linked to vascular system functions, all at less than 100% RDA and probably negligible effect.
So we look up papers looking at the efficacy of LARGE echinacea dosages on oxygen transport of performance. Only a couple of data sets available.
The effect of 4 wk of oral echinacea supplementation on serum erythropoietin and indices of erythropoietic status.
Whitehead MT, Martin TD, Scheett TP, Webster MJ
The purpose of this investigation was to determine whether echinacea supplementation results in alterations of erythroid growth factors and erythropoietic status. Twenty-four men age 24.9 +/- 4.2 y, height 1.7 +/- 0.8 m, weight 87.9 +/- 14.6 kg, and 19.3% +/- 6.5% body fat were grouped using a double-blind design and self- administered an 8000-mg/d dose of either echinacea (ECH) or placebo (PLA) in 5 x 400 mg x 4 times/d for 28 d. Blood samples were collected and analyzed for red blood cells (RBCs), hematocrit (Hct), hemoglobin (Hb), mean corpuscular volume, mean corpuscular hemoglobin content, prostaglandin E2, ferritin, erythropoietin (EPO), interleukin 3 (IL-3), and granulocyte-macrophage-colony-stimulating factor using automated flow cytometry and ELISA. ANOVA was used to determine significant differences (P ? 0.05). EPO was greater (P < 0.001) in ECH at Days 7, 14, and 21 and reflected a 44%, 63%, and 36% increase, respectively. IL-3 was greater (P = 0.011) in ECH at Days 14 and 21, which indicated a 65% and 73% increase, respectively. These data indicate that ECH supplementation resulted in an increase in EPO and IL-3 but did not significantly alter RBCs, Hb, or Hct.
and a second review style paper by the same author
The Use of Echinacea to Improve Oxygen Transport Capacity
Malcolm T. Whitehead
Interesting section I selected were:-
Thus, if Echinacea supplementation were shown to stimulate EPO production then an increase in [RBC] and oxygen transport capacity might also result.
Maximal exercise capacity: The effects of supplementation with either Echinaceaor the active components of a Taiga Wurzelpreparation (Eleutherococcussenticoscus) on cellular defense and physical fitness were evaluated in 50 healthy male and female volunteers. TaigraWurzelis a variety of commercially prepared Siberian ginseng. The volunteers were divided into two groups with n = 35 in the Taiga Wurzel and n = 20 in the Echinacea group, respectively. Maximal incremental exercise tests were performed on a cycle ergometer prior to and following four weeks of oral supplementation on 20 males that were randomly selected from both groups. The Echinaceagroup was supplemented with 40 drops of 80g of Echinaceapurpurea fresh juice in 100g of the final product containing 22% ethanol . Results indicated that four weeks of oral Echinacea supplementation in humans resulted in a 5% increase in VO2max, 35.03 and 36.91 mLO2.kg-1.min-1 respectively ). It is important to note that the improvement in VO2max was not statistically significant and the effect of Echinacea supplementation on VO2max was not a specific research question addressed in this investigation. Additionally, no measures of erythropoietic status were evaluated in this investigation.
So I would take the results available to suggest that echinacea is increasing EPO levels, but would suggests the results have not been conducted in sufficiently active and well trained individuals to fully ascertain the roles in sporting environment. Whilst EPO PGE-2 and IL-3 all increased they noted not change in Red blood cells or heamtocrit, suggesting that either EPO increases weren't significant enough to induce a change, or that other factors were masking the effects on the individuals. Vo2max increase in trial was not statistically relevant, and as it doesn't specify a double blind trial 5% is close to placebo-inducable levels. Whilst 5% change seems alot, 35 rising to ~37 is negligible, anyone who's done hard intervals when tired will tell you that performance can be way off. (I.e I'm implying just because you give people instructions about how to prepare prior to a maximal test, doesn't mean that they will follow them!).
Seems likely that some health benefits are obtained looking at the results, but it appear not in Red blood cell count or heamatocrit, which is what you would look for in either a dope test or for performance enhancement.